Turkmenistan: Popular singers sentenced to two years in prison

2 March 2011

Two popular Turkmen singers and rock musicians have been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, reported Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights. The following is a newsletter from the Austrian-based human rights organisation:

According to the family members, the case of a young singer Maksat Kakabayev (also spelled: Kakabaev – artist name: Maro), who was illegally detained in February by the 6th department of the Interior Ministry, has a horrendous continuation. The officers from the Interior Ministry thought that detaining Maksat and five other pop singers for 15 days was a very mild punishment, and they arranged a reprisal against selected and most sought-after singers.

Thus, a file dating back almost 12 months was found among the police department records, which incriminates the Kakabayev family – Maksat’s father, brother and brother-in-law, who were sorting out the relationship with their neighbor for the arbitrary dismantling of their satellite aerial. Yet, despite a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the police started criminal proceedings. Immediately once 15 days had expired, a closed trial against Maksat, his father, brother and brother-in-law was held. The relatives were denied access to the court room.

All of them were sentenced to two-year terms of imprisonment. The family members were not even communicated what prison the convicts had been sent to.

Arrested for not being on time
Another singer – Murad Ovezov – was also sentenced to two years in prison. However, the family knows Murad’s whereabouts – the Tedjen colony “Trud” (translated as labour) where he is serving his term. In this case, the officers from the Interior Ministry were also very creative. First Murad was sentenced to a two-year conditional term since a car crashed into his. Some time later he was arrested again as he allegedly did not appear to register at the police station on time and was sentenced to an imprisonment term in the colony.

As it became known, in February the police arrested a group of young singers. All others except Murad and Maksat were released after a 15-day arrest. During this time the police officers abused them in every possible way. The policemen were outraged by the hairstyle of pop singers. “You are not females to wear your hair like this” – the law-enforcement officers shouted emotionally. Without asking permission, they first cut the singers’ hair asking derisively: “What haircut would you like to have?” Then they shaved the singers’ heads.

However, this did not seem sufficient for the police officers and they urged the singers to sing songs for them saying: “You, singer, go ahead and sing!” Those who resented and expressed any discontent were cruelly beaten. We may assume that Maksat and Murad objected the most, and therefore were convicted.

Artists have no rights
In Turkmenistan, the regime tries to suppress any initiative in every way. Artists have absolutely no rights. “We are awarded with the titles of honoured or people’s artist but this virtually makes us totally dependent” said one of the artists who wished to remain anonymous, “before I could earn a living performing at weddings but now I cannot accept any invitations as the Deputy Prime Minister Maysa Yazmukhammedova can call any time and instruct me to go to Khazar, Mary or participate in official concerts. At the same time, transportation costs are not covered, per diem or honorarium for concerts are not paid. Apparently she thinks we live on fresh air. In a nutshell, our lives are impossibly hard”.

Genuinely talented singers try to avoid titles. In this case, however, they are not acknowledged by the country and, as the recent example demonstrates, even turn into outcasts. Those, who can, find jobs abroad. Yet, they are not allowed to come back.

As has been witnessed by a source from the Interior Ministry the instructions are initiated by the head of the state – “we are also shocked by such severe punishment, but we are not decision makers”, he said in whisper to a family member of the arrested singers.

Some think that the pressure on young artists is linked to the President’s demand to strengthen ideological mentoring of youth. According to another version, the independence of young singers which does not fit into the accepted requirements and norms, inspire fear among the country’s leaders, especially given the recent developments in some Arab countries.

Photo: Maro giving an interview for the Turkmen channel TMB which resulted in trouble




About Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR)

TIHR provides the international community with relevant information about Turkmenistan. Through a network of local correspondents, experts and human rights defenders, we publish news, reports, comments and analysis from and about the country. The opganisation was established as an independent public organisation and it was registered in November 2004 in Vienna, Austria. The organisation’s primary focus is monitoring national minority rights, freedom of association, child labour and the education system in Turkmenistan. TIHR also disseminates alternative information from Turkmenistan-based sources and virtually acts as an independent non-governmental information agency.

Since 2004, the organisation’s monitoring activities have been conducted with the support of the Open Society Institute. TIHR also enjoys the support of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Front Line. This newsletter has been funded by the Open Society Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy. All materials are available on the website “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” ( The service is currently available online in English and in Russian.

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR)
Dempschergasse 17/1/12, A-1180 Vienna, Austria; Phone: +43-1-944 1327

Copyright © by 2011 Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights






Click to read more about Turkmenistan on


Turkmen Initiative for human rights, Newletter No. 91 – 2 March 2011:

‘Feudal obscurantism in the country of “great renaissance” ‘


Chronicles of Turkmenistan – 22 February 2010:

‘Turkmen singers are imprisoned for singing love songs’



 Maksat ‘Maro’ Kakabayev                 Murad Ovezov

A warning to young pop and rock musicians

Singer Maksat ‘Maro’ Kakabayev is still being held incommunicado at an unknown location, reported Muhammad Tahir for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on 17 March 2011. According to him, the imprisonment of Maro and Murad Ovezov — who are counted among the two most popular rock musicians in Turkmenistan — could be a warning

According to Muhammad Tahir, other Turkmen pop stars are on a government blacklist.

While Maro’s whereabouts remain unknown, Ovezov is reported to have turned up in a labor camp in the Tejen district.

“Officials aren’t talking. But some informed sources suggest that the two men’s arrest was due to a recent interview Maro gave to TMB, a Turkey-based satellite music channel that is also watched in Turkmenistan. Apparently, certain people in the government were not amused,” wrote Muhammad Tahir.

He also mentioned that there is reason to believe that Maro has been blacklisted for a while. Despite being one of the most watched Turkmen singers on YouTube, his video clips never found a place on Turkmenistan’s main music video channel, Turkmen Owazy.

Five young pop singers arrrested

“Initially, Maro was the one who was first interrogated at the ministry,” stated a report by the Vienna-based NGO Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights. The report also mentioned that five other young pop singers, who had been seen filmed in various music clips together with Maro, were summoned and forced to submit explanatory statements.

Citing local sources, the report notes, “Authorities at the Ministry of the Interior did not even show mercy to female pop singer Gozel Annamukhamedova, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest.”

Dress code issue?
The previous leader of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, who passed away in 2006, banned almost all forms of Western art, claiming that they were at odds with the ‘Turkmen mentality’. The opposition website Gundogar notes: “President Niyazov was a champion of such bans. He signed a decree in 2001 banning opera, ballet, the circus, and a variety of other stage acts.”

The current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov had ‘eased up a bit’, according to Muhammad Tahir, but in January 2011, he reportedly issued a decree requiring female performers to wear traditional Turkmen dress on stage.

Some sources say that this order could be one reason for the pop singers’ problems. They refuse to follow the state-approved version of the dress code.

Other explanations for the arrests
A music expert, who insisted on anonymity, told Chaikhana that the two singers’ imprisonment was a deliberate message: “Once a clip of another disgraced pop singer, Lachin Mamadova, was broadcast on the Turkmen music channel on New Year’s Eve. Reprisals against the television executives reportedly followed immediately.”

An observer familiar with the situation told Muhammad Tahir:

“This is usually considered an early warning, which means that whenever they give any excuse to the authorities — like Maro did with his interview to Turkish television — it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves in trouble.”

The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights suggests that the recent pressure on young musicians has to do with the president’s desire to reinforce the ideological purity of Turkmenistan’s youth — as insurance against the rising tide of revolt in the Middle East.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty – 17 March 2011:
‘Turkmen Rockers Under Arrest — Back To The Bad Old Days?’

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