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'Minister Of Singers' Tells Uzbek Performer To Cover Up

Singer Aziza Niyazmetova was censured by Uzbek authorities days after she defended another singer who had been widely criticized on social media.

Authorities in Uzbekistan have condemned a popular singer's "shameless" choice of clothing and warned her to avoid offending national "mentality and values," hinting that she might be thrown out of the industry for her perceived transgressions.

The singer, Aziza Niyazmetova, was told by Uzbeknavo, a state agency overseeing the domestic music industry, that her appearance will be a determining factor in her impending license renewal. In Uzbekistan, performers are required to obtain a license to work.

An official letter tells the singer that officials will determine whether Niyazmetova "has adhered to ethical norms,...hasn't insulted the audience's feelings, [and] has respected the national mentality, values, and culture."

The letter was signed by the head of the license-issuing body, Farhod Juraev, dubbed by some Uzbek performers the "Minister of Singers."

Niyazmetova told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that she was summoned over a recent mirror selfie shared on social media that shows her in a sleeveless dress with a bouquet of flowers in front of her.

"As it happens, that photo has shocked the officials," Niyazmetova said, adding that Uzbeknavo officials said her choice of garment was "shameless."

"I took that photo at home, holding flowers that my husband gave me," she said. "I mean, I wasn't on stage. Besides, only my shoulders are showing in this photo."

'Critical Comments'

The April 7 meeting at Uzbeknavo came a week after an interview Niyazmetova gave to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service in which she defended a female Uzbek singer who had been widely criticized on social media for shortcomings in her Uzbek language skills.

In that interview, Niyazmetova said that Uzbekistan is home to many ethnic groups, including Tajiks, Jews, and Russians, and that "not everyone must speak Uzbek," which is the country's state language.

The picture that landed Aziza Niyazmetova in hot water
The picture that landed Aziza Niyazmetova in hot water

It is unclear whether the interview played a role in Niyazmetova's latest troubles with Uzbeknavo. The singer, however, says her "critical comments" on media and social media have angered the officials.

Uzbeknavo did not respond to RFE/RL Uzbek Service's interview requests and questions regarding Niyazmetova's case.

Uzbeknavo has not publicly issued a dress code or code of conduct for performers. However, it has in the past warned artists against "violating" the Uzbek mentality and national values.

Female singer Lola Yuldosheva got an official warning in 2015 over a dress that exposed her legs during a concert.

A hugely popular comedy troupe called Million had its license revoked indefinitely in 2014 over jokes Uzbeknavo deemed "inappropriate" and of a "sexual nature."

However, it's not only daring garments and inappropriate jokes that get Uzbek performers in trouble. In 2013, popular singer Jasur Umarov was banned for failing to take part in the state-backed cotton-picking campaign. An Uzbeknavo official said at the time that Umarov "had simulated illness to avoid cotton picking and his songs contradict the Uzbek national mentality."

Unlicensed entertainers are prohibited from performing in public -- including, concerts and weddings, as well as on radio and television.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service correspondent Shukhrat Babajanov
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.