Hazrat Juraev was 36 years old the last time he saw Uzbekistan. He didn't want to leave the country then, and now he's afraid to return.
Juraev was detained in Pakistan's southern Balochistan Province last month, and he told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, that the Pakistani authorities wanted to send him back to Uzbekistan, where he almost certainly faces imprisonment or worse.
Juraev tells a curious tale, and we have only his word for the events he describes. But it is quite a story.
Juraev was speaking to Ozodlik from a detention facility in Balochistan, where he had been living and working as an imam.
Juraev has been a religious man for a long time. In the late 1990s, he was spreading the teachings of Islam in his native Bukhara region of Uzbekistan, exhibiting the sort of piety that is bound to attract the attention of the Uzbek authorities.
On February 16, 1999, a number of bombs exploded in Tashkent. Many kilometers away in Bukhara, Juraev was not a suspect; but that didn't stop local authorities from bringing him in for questioning, several times.
"During the last [session of] questioning, the police chief told me, 'If something [like the Tashkent bombings] happens in Bukhara, you will be the first person we will bring in.'"
Juraev decided to flee the country, so he was nowhere near Bukhara when bombings did happen in late March 2004.
Juraev departed Uzbekistan shortly after his conversation with the police chief and fled first to Tajikistan but eventually made his way to Afghanistan. He said that at a mosque in Kabul he met people from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). By that time the IMU, allies of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, had already staged armed incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan with the stated goal of overthrowing the Uzbek government.
Juraev told Ozodlik that he decided then to join the IMU, though he claims he never participated in any fighting. His membership in the IMU was short, he said. After the group was decimated by U.S. air strikes in northern Afghanistan in late 2001, Juraev moved on -- this time to Iran, where he was granted UN refugee status. Juraev lived for some 10 years in Zahedan, but when his UN status expired in 2010, the Iranian authorities ordered him to leave the country.
That is reportedly how Juraev ended up in Balochistan. He said he had not been in Uzbekistan for a decade and a half. For the first few years after he left Uzbekistan, he kept in contact with his wife and three children back in the Bukhara area, but at their request he ceased phoning them because they feared problems with the Uzbek authorities.
Juraev is being held in the city of Gwadar. His Pakistani jailers say they intend to send him back to Uzbekistan.
"I asked them not to do that," Juraev said. "I said that in Uzbekistan it is very hard, but they didn't believe me. They said, 'Uzbekistan is a democratic country; everyone is a Muslim there, and you must have done something there and escaped.'"
Juraev has not been given access to a lawyer. Ozodlik contacted local rights defenders who promised to take up his case with the Pakistani authorities. However, due to the presence of IMU militants in Pakistan's tribal areas since 2001, Pakistani officials and the Pakistani media have been depicting Uzbeks as militants for several years now to the point where the word "Uzbek" is practically synonymous with "militant."
Public sentiment in Pakistan would therefore suggest Juraev has good reason to be concerned that he will be sent back to Uzbekistan.
Sirojiddin Tolibov of Ozodlik helped in preparing this report