A group of self-exiled Uzbek activists has urged British sculptor Paul Day not to erect a statue in Moscow honoring Uzbekistan’s former authoritarian leader, the late President Islam Karimov – saying that if he does, "the blood of Karimov's victims will taint the artist’s work forever."
Uzbekistan's government and the Islam Karimov Foundation, headed by the late president’s youngest daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, commissioned Day to create the sculpture that is to be placed outside of Uzbekistan’s embassy in Moscow.
But the Paris-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia on February 5 published an open letter calling on Day to “reconsider and to pull out” of his arrangement with the foundation.
The letter accuses Karimov of ordering “the massacre of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Andijon in 2005” and says that those who have tried to discover the true number of Andijon victims and reveal it to the world have been silenced.
"You must know that before he died in 2016, Karimov subjected millions of people, including young children, to slavery in the cotton fields,” the letter said.
“He imprisoned thousands of real or imagined opponents,” the group said. “He had them tortured, sometimes to death…He attacked artists who dared venture into politics and imposed strict censorship on the media, social sciences, literature, and arts.
"These are the values you will be celebrating with your homage to his legacy."
"During Islam Karimov’s reign of terror, we lost loved ones, family members, friends” through “brutal crackdowns by the security forces he controlled,” it said.
The letter also said that Day would be paid for his work with "dirty" money that Karimov and his relatives stole from ordinary Uzbeks over many years.
There was no immediate public reaction to the letter from Day.
But in December, after Human Rights Watch criticized Day for accepting the commission, he told Britain's Guardian newspaper that he is "an artist and not a politician or a journalist."
"My job is to make objects of lasting quality and beauty, and subjects will vary," Day told the newspaper.
"Anything I do can have both a positive and negative effect on my career," Day said. "Life offers opportunity and I go with the flow, as it were."
The letter from the Uzbek activists appeared to address those remarks with a reference that compared Karimov to Adolf Hitler.
"One of your most famous works, Battle Of Britain, pays tribute to the men and women who risked their lives to save civilians from Adolf Hitler’s bombing campaign,” the Uzbek activists wrote.
“We assume you would not taint their legacy and yours by building an homage to Hitler,” they said. “Why are you risking it with this celebration of a modern mass murderer?"
Karimov, an authoritarian former Communist Party leader, ruled the Central Asian nation for 27 years, ruthlessly cracking down on dissent. His death was announced on September 2, 2016.
With reporting by The Guardian