By Paul Tumelty
The unrest in the eastern Uzbek region of Andijan was sparked by protests linked to the trial of 23 local businessmen which began in February this year.
Fundamentalists or well-doers? Protesters rallied against the trial of 23 Islamic businessmen
Their arrests occurred against the backdrop of allegations by human rights groups that President Islam Karimov's regime systematically clamped down on Islamic groups following a series of bombings in 1999 and 2004 linked to the militant Islamic Movement of Turkestan.
Prosecutors allege that the men in the Andijan are members of a heterodox Islamic sect known as Akramiya, named after Akramjon Yoldoshev, a mathematics teacher from Andijan.
In 1992 he authored a pamphlet entitled "Iymonga Yol", or the "Way to Sacred Islam", in which he addressed questions of morality and stressed the superiority of the Islamic worldview. As a result, he attracted a group of followers that became known as Akramiya.
It remains unclear whether the group has a distinct structure, or indeed comprises a group at all. But the Uzbek authorities have repeatedly claimed Akramiya is an anti-constitutional extremist organisation who wish to impose Sharia law and an Islamic State in Central Asia.
Others state that Akramiya is a splinter group from Hezb-e Tahrir (Party of Liberation), a trans-national Islamic group that seeks to re-establish the Caliphate in Central Asia, though by peaceful means.
'Helping the poor'
In April 2005, the regional newspaper Andijonnoma stated that followers of the group propagate the idea that the solution to all problems in life - social and economic - can be found in the Koran or Hadith.
Its slogan is "use wisdom in the right way" and the paper states that the group aims to create an "Islamic environment" to attract followers by setting up small business enterprises in the spheres of construction, production and farming, providing members and followers with jobs and money.
In mid-March 2005, an unrecognised youth group in the Andijan region appealed to the international community to "help their 23 friends and colleagues" charged with involvement in the Akramiya group.
The appeal stated that the defendants "were not religious extremists but successful businessmen who have carried out charitable activities and rendered assistance to needy people".
Their statement outlined that the Andijan youth movement itself was established in 1994 with the aim of advancing economic reform in the country and they began to implement their plans in 1999.
A limited liability partnership "Qurilishsavdotaminot" (construction company) was set up and other enterprises were established later.
In 2004, all the heads of these enterprises, the 23 defendants, were arrested by officers from the Andijan regional branch of the National Security Service.
The appeal further stated that the "defendants and their friends do not deny that they were and still are Muslims, and that they have rendered assistance to people, as prescribed by the Koran".
Those on trial may share the views of Akramiya's founder Akramjon Yoldoshev, but his book's main aim, they say, is to prevent the young from joining organisations such as Hezb-e Tahrir.
Other independent sources similarly claim that Yoldoshev's book does not address political questions.
On 11 March Yoldoshev's wife Yodgora testified at the trial on behalf of the defence.
She stated that, although she did not know the defendants, she was attending to refute allegations that her husband's book incited extremism.
Her husband, she said, was arrested for the first time on 3 March 1998, charged with possessing drugs and sentenced to two years and six months in prison, but was released following an amnesty in December that year.
Following his release, Yoldoshev appealed to the justice department to have his book published officially. He was subsequently re-arrested on 17 February 1999 and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Yodgora Yoldoshev's states that her husband forbids her to criticise the authorities, and especially not the president, as he says that "one becomes ruler at Allah's will. Acting against the ruler means acting against Allah's will."
On 29 April the Ferghana.ru website announced that the 23 defendants had gone on hunger strike and by 11 May reports emerged of a 4,000-strong protest outside Andijan's town court.
Whatever the true aims or beliefs of the followers of Akramjon Yoldoshev, it now appears that events have taken over. As one Uzbek source told the BBC: "The people are tired."