Maksat Kakabaev (aka MARO) and Murad Ovezov are popular singers who were wrongfully detained in Turkmenistan on fabricated charges. Mr. Kakabaev and Mr. Ovezov were sentenced to seven and five years in prison, respectively. After serving approximately two years in prison, they were released as part of an amnesty celebrating National Flag Day in February 2013.
In January 2011, Mr. Kakabaev appeared on TMB, a Turkish based satellite music channel, where he was interviewed and his western-style music video was played. Following his appearance on TMB, the Turkmen Culture and Broadcasting Ministry summoned Messrs. Kakabaev and Ovezov and told them not to appear on foreign media again.
On January 28, 2011, Messrs. Kakabaev and Ovezov were summoned to a branch office of the Turkmen Interior Ministry along with five young popular singers who appeared with them in their music videos. These five individuals were interrogated, forced to submit explanatory statements, and later released by the Ministry after a 15-day detention. During their 15-day detention, Messrs. Kakabaev and Ovezov were verbally and physically abused. They were taunted by guards for their “feminine appearance” and forcefully had their heads shaved.
After 15 days in administrative detention, Mr. Kakabaev was convicted on unknown charges. Unconfirmed sources report that he was charged in relation to a year-old dispute over a TV antenna with his neighbor which had already been peacefully resolved. Mr. Kakabaev’s father, brother, and brother-in-law were also included in the charges. Mr. Kakabaev was sentenced to seven years in prison. It is believed that Mr. Kakabaev served his sentence at Shagal strict regime prison.
Mr. Ovezov was sentenced to five years in prison on charges related to a car accident. Mr. Ovezov had previously been involved in a car accident and was originally sentenced to a two year conditional term. However, after the TMB interview, Mr. Ovezov was rearrested for allegedly not registering at the police station as part of his conditional sentencing. He was believed have served his prison sentence at Trud prison colony.
International observers believe that Messrs. Kakabaev and Ovezov were imprisoned for ideological overtones in their songs. It is believed that their arrests may be part of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s initiative to refocus Turkmen youth on more patriotic music and traditional dress. Neither of the singers follow state-approved dress codes for artists or used ideological messages in their songs as is common among state-approved musicians. The content of one of the Mr. Kakabaev’s songs might have been interpreted as a call to stand up against the regime. Mr. Kakabaev’s lyrics read: “Open your eyes, look in the mirror/Look at your surroundings/Do not stop, wake up/Enough is enough.”
European Voice op-ed by Freedom Now program attorney Mirakmal Niyazmatov calling on the European Union to support use of human rights benchmarks in its relations with Turkmenistan.
Calling for the release of prisoners of conscience in Turkmenistan.
Submitted by Freedom Now on behalf of Maksat Kakabayev and Murad Ovezov.