One of Uzbekistan's most popular singer-songwriters has complained to President Shavkat Mirziyoev that he is effectively banned from performing on state TV and in public because of his beard.
"Despite obtaining an official license to perform, I'm not allowed to appear on television and [officials] tell me the reason is my beard," Sanjar Javberdiev -- better known as San Jay -- said in a video appeal posted on his YouTube page on October 8.
The pop singer said he returned to his native Uzbekistan from Russia three years ago to do his "best to help promote Uzbek pop music."
He recalled how Mirziyoev, who took power in 2016, urged Uzbeks abroad to come back to their homeland as the strictly controlled Central Asian nation under longtime leader Islam Karimov showed signs of being more open.
But San Jay said his career in Uzbekistan has largely been reduced to performing at small private events as Uzbek authorities made it clear that with facial hair he won't be allowed on any state or public shows and gatherings.
San Jay, 41, also pleaded with Mirziyoev to help him get an official permit to give a concert, his first gig since returning to his native country in 2016.
"A month ago, I submitted all the necessary documents, including papers from the city Internal Affairs Department, to give a concert," he said, as one of his songs played in the background of the video. "I paid the fees.... But I wasn't granted a permit."
'I'm Not Shaving It Off'
San Jay sports a salt-and-pepper beard and often appears in photos and videos wearing a hoodie with a casual outfit or a wide-brimmed hat with suit.
He does not sing about Islam and -- besides his beard -- shows nothing that would denote being overtly religious.
"Wearing a beard doesn't mean I intend to preach something or get involved in politics," San Jay said.
The singer, however, insists he isn't going to shave off his beard, saying the country's laws don't prohibit citizens from growing facial hair.
"I apologize if some people don't like my beard, but I'm not shaving it off," San Jay said.
There wasn't an immediate reaction from the president's office to the artist's pleas.
Uzbek musicians are required to obtain a mandatory license to perform in concerts, public events, television, and radio, as well as to record and distribute their work.
The license costs more than $2,000 and must be renewed every year.
Uzbek officials have in the past denied or revoked such licenses to various singers, citing their revealing outfit or allegedly vulgar appearances, or merely for refusing to take part in the country's cotton-picking campaign.