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Turkmenistan Frees 9,000 Inmates, But Many High-Profile Political Prisoners Still Jailed

(RFE/RL) October 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An amnesty for almost 9,000 prisoners took effect in Turkmenistan this week, but hopes that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov would release some high-profile government opponents and former government officials appear to have gone unrealized.

Turkmen state television showed some of the prisoners released on October 8 performing traditional acts of penance and swearing not to return to a life of crime.

The most notable figure freed was Geldy Kyarizov, the former director of the Government Association Turkmenatlary (Turkmen Horses) and an internationally renowned breeder of the famous Akhalteke horses. Kyarizov's prison term for "abuse of office" and "negligence" was due to expire in April 2008. Kyarizov was the subject of numerous clemency appeals to the Turkmen government by rights organizations. He had been held in detention since January 2002 and, according to Amnesty International, has long been in ill health.

Nurmurad Rejepov, the son of the former head of the presidential guard under late President Saparmurat Niyazov, was also released. The reason for freeing the younger Rejepov -- as was true of the grounds on which he and his father were jailed -- remains unclear.

Not released was former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, who was imprisoned for life for what Turkmen authorities say was his leading role in the alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov in 2002. But Shikhmuradov's nephew and his wife were set free.

Annual Amnesties

Prisoner amnesties became an annual event under Niyazov. Sometimes, there are several during the course of a year, as in 1999, when there were at least four. The number of prisoners freed varies -- from only a handful to up to 10,000 offenders.

This week's amnesty saw the release of 8,853 people. According to Turkmen authorities, some 5,000 had been imprisoned this year and 2,500 were jailed last year. Those convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, or terrorism are never released, while government officials jailed for corruption and embezzlement are also not included in the amnesties.

The list of those scheduled to be released this week includes 1,370 women. The only women's prison in the country -- in the northern city of Dashoguz -- is supposed to hold a maximum of 700 inmates.

Amnesties Not Welcomed

The majority of those eligible for these prisoner amnesties are petty felons. Many citizens do not welcome the amnesties, which are usually followed by a rise in crime.

While little is known about life inside Turkmen prisons, no educational programs are offered that could teach prisoners a vocation so they could find employment once released from custody. Job opportunities for those released are few, and many of the freed inmates are in poor health.

A resident of Balkan Province described the condition of many of the released inmates to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. "Nobody takes care of them, [and] they are not offered any jobs because the number of people released from prisons is huge," he said.

(RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)

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