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STEPANAKERT -- Authorities in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh have declared a general amnesty they say will lead to the release of about 20 percent of the territory's prison population, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The parliament in the Armenian-controlled parliament approved an amnesty law on August 30 put forward by Bako Sahakian, the Armenian Karabakh leader.

Officials in Stepanakert refused to specify how many convicts will be freed as a result of the amnesty, which is dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Karabakh's declaration of independence from Azerbaijan. The total number of people serving prison sentences in Karabakh has also not been made public.

The law stipulates that the amnesty will not apply to individuals convicted of murder, rape, robbery, and other serious crimes. It will mainly affect those sentenced to up to three years in prison or underage convicts.

Other prisoners serving longer sentences can have their jail terms reduced by at least one-third if they participated in the 1991-94 war against Azerbaijan or are related to people who were killed in the fighting.

Speaking in the parliament, Sahakian's chief legal aide, Ara Lazarian, said the amnesty will also require local law-enforcement bodies to close at least 60 percent of pending criminal cases that have not been sent to courts and free relevant criminal suspects in nonserious crimes committed before August 1.

Armenia's president and parliament declared a general amnesty in May. At least 400 people have been released from jail since then as a result of that amnesty.

The self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has not been recognized by any country.

Read more in Armenian here

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