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Uzbek 'Tigress Of The East' Takes On 'Karimov's Hammer'

Uzbek singer Ozoda Saidzoda (file photo)
Singer Ozoda Saidzoda is still a star in Uzbekistan, despite not being one of the country's officially approved artists.

Having shot to fame in the Central Asian country in the 1990s thanks to her traditional Uzbek renditions of modern pop songs, Saidzoda became hugely popular for her lively stage shows and heartfelt performances. (The fact that she also changed her surname to Saidzoda from the more Russian-sounding Nursaidova would only have enhanced her standing among many Uzbeks.)

Known affectionately to some of her fans as the "Tigress of the East," her impassioned torch songs and often fiery brand of trad-pop kept her at the top of Uzbekistan's entertainment industry -- until she suddenly had her special performing license revoked by the country's shadowy entertainment authority in 2006.

Although no official reason was given for the withdrawal of her license, many believed it was due to videos appearing on the Internet of some of her more risque performances, which were considered too vulgar and coarse by Uzbekistan's rather conservative establishment.

WATCH: Performer Ozoda Saidzoda in full flow:

Since then, Saidzoda has remained tight-lipped about her performance ban while continuing to make a living by singing at wedding parties and other private events that don't come under the purview of the licensing authority.

Until now, that is.

On May 1, tweeting in both Uzbek and Russian, Saidzoda appeared to lay the blame for her career setback squarely at the door of the country's prime minister, Shavkat Mirziyaev, who has held office since December 2003 and has a reputation for being one of the more hard-line elements in President Islam Karimov's authoritarian government.
(Mr. Mirziyaev! For so many years you have made my life hell. Was that not enough? Now you want to destroy my home. Is there no law for you?)
(Mr Mirziyaev! Isn't everything I went through all these years thanks to you not enough -- now you want to destroy my home. Are you trying to show who's the boss???)

Ozoda later elaborated on her tweets in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, claiming she has been a victim of persecution for a number of years.

"There have been lots of fabricated cases against me," she said. "Whenever you raise your voice, someone will look for dirt on you. And I have proof that Mr. Mirziyaev is behind this. I have known him since he was governor of Samarkand. I know many things about him."

Saidzoda went on to say she was considering taking legal action against Mirziyaev, whom she accuses of being behind her constant harassment by Uzbek tax authorities and utility providers. Now, she says, this unwarranted attention means she could soon be forced out of her Tashkent home.

"I know how he came to power and how many people suffered because of him," she added. "Even the Uzbek security service knows about this. I wrote to them with facts and it was ignored.

"Everything is happening because I refused to become part of his team in 2001 [to promote him and his political career]. I always did the opposite of what they told me."

In setting her sights on the Uzbek prime minister, Saidzoda is taking on a powerful adversary.

Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev
Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev
Mirziyaev has a reputation for being a ruthless operator. Described by one Uzbek journalist as "Karimov's hammer," he is generally viewed as the man who pushes through the implementation of Karimov's more unpopular policies, including forced labor during the country's annual cotton harvest.

His tough-guy persona has been enhanced by reports that he has physically assaulted regional officials who displeased him, and his close connections with the country's security forces make him a man to be feared.

This could be the reason why Saidzoda has kept her counsel for so long, but now she seems undaunted.

"I am very much under pressure," she says. "I was afraid for my life, so I kept silent in order to protect my relatives. But now I've run out of patience."

It is unlikely that Saidzoda will ever get a chance to prove her allegations against the prime minister in an Uzbek court, but even speaking out against him in such a public manner is a noteworthy occurrence in a country where people are often afraid to criticize the ruling regime.

Although the singer may be gambling that her popularity may spare her any major repercussions for her public act of defiance, she may also have been inspired by a new atmosphere of dissent that appears to be creeping into Uzbek life.

A YouTube video posted last month by a migrant Uzbek worker publicly calling on Karimov to resign because of his failure to govern quickly went viral.

It has already amassed hundreds of thousands of views, a social-media milestone almost unheard of in Uzbekistan, whose deeply repressive society means people are often afraid to view "subversive" Internet content in case it gets them into trouble with the authorities.

-- Coilin O'Connor and Alisher Sidikov

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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