Maksat Kakabaev & Murad Ovezov

Date of Birth: Unknown
Occupation: Musicians
Arrested: January 28, 2011
Charges: Unknown
Sentence: Seven years and five years
Released: February 19, 2013

Maksat Kakabaev (aka MARO) and Murad Ovezovare popular singers who were wrongfully detained in Turkmenistan on fabricated charges. Kakabaev and 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, 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 Kakabaev and Ovezov and told them not to appear on foreign media again.

On January 28, 2011, 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, 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, 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. Kakabaev’s father, brother, and brother-in-law were also included in the charges. Kakabaev was sentenced to seven years in prison. It is believed that Kakabaev served his sentence at Shagal strict regime prison.

Ovezov was sentenced to five years in prison on charges related to a car accident. Ovezov had previously been involved in a car accident and was originally sentenced to a two-year conditional term. However, after the TMB interview, Ovezov was rearrested for allegedly not registering at the police station as part of his conditional sentencing. He was believed to have served his prison sentence at Trud prison colony.

International observers believe that 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 follows 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 Kakabaev’s songs might have been interpreted as a call to stand up against the regime. The lyrics
read: “Open your eyes, look in the mirror/Look at your surroundings/Do not stop, wake up/Enough is enough.”

Freedom Now mobilized international pressure in support of the two singers. This materialized in the form of an op-ed in European Voice and a letter from 24 members of the European Parliament.

In September 2012, Freedom Now filed a petition with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Kakabaev and Ovezov. The Working Group issued an opinion in April 2013 finding the detention of the two men violated international law.

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