The former imam of the Khoja Nuriddin mosque in Tashkent has been released from a penal colony in Uzbekistan after serving more than 15 years on charges of terrorism, extremism, and "anticonstitutional activities."
The release of Rukhiddin Fahruddinov on the morning of August 27 from Penal Colony Settlement No. 14 in the Zangiata district of the Tashkent region came two years and three months ahead of schedule.
His release has been welcomed by international human rights activists as a major development in the struggle for "prisoners of conscience" who've been jailed for their religious or political views.
Steve Swerdlow, an attorney and human rights researcher formerly with Human Rights Watch, said in a Twitter post that August 27 was "turning out to be [a] banner day" for political prisoners in Uzbekistan.
Swerdlow described Fahruddinov as an "independent religious figure" who has faced torture and other rights abuses since he was arrested in 2005.
Swerdlow also noted that Fahruddinov's case has been repeatedly raised by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and Human Rights Watch.
He said it was "hard to articulate" the significance of Fahruddinov's release.
During his trial in the era of Uzbekistan's late President Islam Karimov, police claimed that Fahruddinov was a spiritual leader of the "Wahhabism" movement and had been working to build an extremist "Islamic state" in Uzbekistan.
But Fahruddinov's relatives deny that he was involved in any extremist movement.
Fahruddinov's wife, Muhayo Ismoilova, told RFE/RL in 2006 that the couple's daughter had been raped by an Uzbek security officer when she was just 6 years old in order to force Fahruddinov to confess to the charges against him.
Uzbek authorities denied those allegations and subsequently arrested and charged a boy who was 16 years old, Nigmatulla Qalandarov, with committing the rape. Qalandarov was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison.