Popular Singers Arrested in Turkmenistan
While Uzbekistan state television is ranting about how rock music is from the devil , now neighboring Turkmenistan is taking cultural control drastic steps further and has arrested two young Turkmen pop singers. One of them, who goes by the name Ma-Ro has attracted as many as 10,000-20,000 views for dozens of his tunes on the video-sharing site Youtube -- despite strict government controls over the Internet.
Maksat (Maro) Karakbayev and Murad Ovezov were summoned to the Interior Ministry on January 28 and sentenced to 15 days of jail for giving an interview to a Turkish TV channel, TMB, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights reports.
After they were interrogated, anyone who was filmed in music videos with the two performers was also summoned for questioning; the round-up included a pregnant woman.
At the end of the 15 days, the case unfortunately turned for the worse late in February. Apparently some officials decided more severe punishment was required, and Ovezov was sentenced to two years in prison. Authorities then dug up an old case against Karakbayev as well as his father, brother, and brother-in-law regarding a dispute with a neighbor over a satellite aerial, and sentenced all the family members to two years of prison. Relatives do not know where they were taken. Their only hope now is that the men may be released in an amnesty tied to a state holiday.
The official behind the arrest appears to be Deputy Prime Minister Maysa Yazmukhamedova, responsible for culture, who saw the TMB TV show and did not like it for some reason. Relatives and friends were perplexed, as they felt there was nothing wrong with the music, which features a native Turkmen style with romantic themes and no "inappropriate" behavior. Performers have sometimes fallen afoul of Turkmen government censors for appearing in anything less than modest modern or traditional dress.
Although there is a new generation very interested in following popular national and international music on the Internet, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has preferred to try to re-route their enthusiasm to patriotic music and melodies singing his praises. There are undisclosed blacklists against certain artists -- and precisely because they are not formalized, state TV sometimes slips up and shows something prohibited.
Another group of young singers were also arrested in February, TIHR reports and police forcibly cut their hair and taunted them.
A source in the Interior Ministry told relatives that even officials were "shocked by such severe punishment" regarding the sentencing of the popular singers but said the orders for the arrest had come directly from the president, TIHR reported.
The current crackdown on youth appears to be a function of both a long-term plan to strengthen ideological control over youth and fear by Turkmenistan's leaders over the spread of Middle Eastern revolutions, says TIHR.