The Uzbek government has ordered a private television channel to stop showing the popular Turkish soap opera Endless Love amid criticism that the show contradicts Uzbek family values.
Zo'r TV channel adhered to the state's demand and canceled Endless Love on July 31, just three days after the much-loved prime time series made a triumphant return to the airwaves after also being banned in 2018.
A producer at Zo'r TV blamed the decision on a "small number" of religiously conservative viewers who consistently demanded that Uzbek authorities suspend Endless Love, whose plot is based on a complicated love triangle.
"The so-called moral guardians...collected signatures through Telegram and other social media and sent a letter to the president's virtual office," the producer, who requested anonymity, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on July 31.
"In the end they managed to have the show canceled...because their attack against it has been systematic," he added.
Endless Love was initially removed from the air on February 16, 2018 after Prime Minister Abdullah Aripov backed calls for the soap opera to be banned.
'We Are Very Unhappy'
A government employee in Tashkent told RFE/RL that the order to suspend Endless Love for a second time also came from Aripov.
The state worker, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that during a cabinet meeting on July 30 at which he was present, Aripov strongly criticized Zo'r TV's decision to bring back the soap opera despite last year's ban.
Zo'r TV was founded by Jahongir Ortiqkhojaev, the wealthy mayor of the capital, Tashkent.
The government employee provided what he said was a photo from the cabinet meeting along with an audio recording of Aripov's speech condemning Endless Love.
In the audio, Aripov can be heard saying: "We have some officials who ignore the prime minister's words and the government's decisions. They behave as they see fit."
Without naming names, Aripov went on to say: "You know who I'm talking about. They again started airing the Turkish series. I demand them to take it off the air today."
Aripov accused "them" of disregarding "the opinion of the people...who were very unhappy" with the Turkish melodrama being aired in Uzbekistan.
The hard-line government in Tashkent exercises strict control over the content of all media enterprises, including private entities.
There was no immediate official reaction from Ortiqkhojaev or the Zo'r TV administration. The TV station didn't explain to viewers why its broadcasts of Endless Love came to an abrupt end for a second time.
'Sins With Their Eyes'
Since it began airing in August 2017, the soap opera has come under attack from the Islamist website Azon.uz, which repeatedly criticized the show as contravening Uzbek people's religious and family values.
An article published on Azon.uz in February 2018 said those who watch Endless Love "commit sins with their eyes."
It described the Uzbeks dubbing the Turkish-language show as "traitors" and urged people to "fight against them."
The article, Recognize The Enemies Of The Nation, generated many discussions on social media and garnered some support in the predominantly Muslim nation of some 32 million.
Uzbek officials criticized the article, saying that it undermined the country's laws. At the same time, however, the state Agency for Press and Information instructed Zo'r TV to halt the show.
Endless Love is a story of a wealthy woman who falls in love with a man from a humble background. But she eventually marries a rich businessman who blackmails the woman's family.
The show touches on such issues as extramarital affairs, forced marriages, murder, and suicide.
Endless Love has won an International Emmy award and has been aired in more than 70 countries, from Latin America to the Middle East.
Uzbekistan previously banned Turkish soap operas in 2002 and again in 2012 saying they contain "inappropriate scenes that are not compatible with the Uzbek people's mentality."
Uzbekistan ranks 182nd out of 194 countries rated on the Freedom in the World 2019 Index.