For Immediate Release
March 1, 2013

Freedom Now is happy to report that Turkmen singers Maksat Kakabaev (MaRo) and Murad Ovezov have been released from prison. The two popular singers were released as part of an amnesty celebrating National Flag Day. They each served approximately two years of a seven and five-year sentence, respectively.

“We are thrilled that MaRo and Mr. Ovezov have been released early from prison and are home with their families. During their imprisonment so little was known about their whereabouts or well-being,” said Freedom Now executive director Maran Turner. “We call on the Government of Turkmenistan to end ‘disappearances’ like theirs, which serve only to heighten the alarm for their welfare.”

Turkmen authorities detained MaRo and Mr. Ovezov on January 28, 2011 following their appearance on a Turkish satellite music channel. They were held for 15 days in administrative detention during which time they were verbally and physically abused. Following closed trials, the two men disappeared into custody. It had been reported that Mr. Kakabaev was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges related to a year-old dispute over a TV antenna with his neighbor. Mr. Ovezov was sentenced to five years in prison on charges related to a car accident. Given the suspicious timing of their arrests and the long incongruous prison sentences, observers surmised that the true motivation for the arrests were the ideological overtones in the artists’ songs and their western-style appearance.

Watch Sen Oýan performed by MaRo and Bahana by Murad Ovezov!

On February 8, 2013 24 members of the European Parliament issued a letter urging the Turkmen ambassador to the European Union to intervene on behalf of MaRo and Mr. Ovezov and fellow prisoner of conscience, Gulgedy Annaniyazov. The letter stated, “We also call upon your government to release these individuals and other prisoners of conscience on humanitarian grounds or within the framework of expected amnesty in connection with forthcoming National Flag Day on 19 Feb. 2013.” Imprisoned human rights defender Gulgedy Annaniyazov remains in prison.

In September 2012, Freedom Now submitted a legal petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of MaRo and Mr. Ovezov, consideration of which was pending as of the date of release.