The mystery deepens over the case of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, a young woman that rights activists in Uzbekistan claim committed suicide after being tortured in custody by authorities.
As related by the Human Rights Alliance, a group run from Tashkent by outspoken activist Yelena Urlaeva, the death appeared to underscore the very real danger posed by authoritarian governments trawling social networking sites for signs of dissidence.
But a report in Uzmetronom, a news site also based in Tashkent, casts credible doubts on that account.
Under the initially reported scenario, Abdujalilova returned in November to her native Andijan Province on a visit home from studying abroad in Germany, after which she was picked up the police.
Perplexed by what might have caused security services to single out Abdujalilova, some speculated that she may have come to the attention of authorities through her Facebook account, which identified her as a supporter of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). The movement was formed in May from a number of foreign-based Uzbek political and rights organizations and has unambiguously stated its goal as being the downfall of President Islam Karimov's regime.
Moscow-based Ferghana.ru cited a PMU statement as suggesting Abdujalilova killed herself earlier this month after refusing police demands that she murder the movement's exiled leader Muhammad Salih.
Now, Uzmetronom has refuted the entire story, going so far as to suggest that Abdujalilova may not even exist.
"According to information obtained by us on a confidential basis, there is no mention made of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova in the civil registry of the Kurgan-Tepin District of Andijan Province, where births, marriages and deaths are recorded,” Uzmetronom said. “We also found that Gulsumoy Abdujalilova's name does not appear in the database of the State Customs Committee, whose personnel record every arrival and departure of citizens of Uzbekistan."
The site also claims to have run checks with several international airports in Germany and to have found that none of them could confirm that anybody by that name had flown from there. Moreover, a publicly posted mobile telephone number identified as being that of Abdujalilova's sister, Mohlara, has been found to belong to a man in Tashkent, the site said.
Sure enough, there is a marked discrepancy in appearance between the single profile picture on the Facebook account purportedly belonging to Abdujalilova and the one photo of her run by the Ferghana site.
While Uzmetronom insists it is not casting aspersions on Urlaeva's intentions, it does question whether she has been too gullible and fooled by a ruse orchestrated by the exiled opposition to smear the Uzbek government.
The Uzbek government makes a rule of avoiding comment on such reports, but it is hard to imagine that this revised account did not have their blessing.
Whatever the truth behind this nebulous case, arguments about the dangers of being too public with one's affiliations on public social networking sites remain in force. Being a member of the opposition in Uzbekistan is still as dangerous as ever.
That notwithstanding, this saga may ultimately come to tarnish the exiled opposition's credibility.