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Turkmenistan: HRW Critical Of Trial, Sentence

New York, 31 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a life sentence given yesterday by the Turkmen Supreme Court to former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov was unfair. The international human rights group has said the proceedings could be compared to Stalinist trials of the 1930s and were designed to eliminate opposition to the Turkmen regime.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced Shikhmurdov's sentence on state television yesterday. The president said demands that Shikhmuradov be executed had been rejected because only Allah can decide such a punishment.

Shikhmuradov, who was detained by Turkmen authorities last week, was shown on state television on 29 December saying he had plotted with others to kill the president while under the influence of drugs. He also denounced the political opposition to Niyazov, calling it a criminal gang.

Elizabeth Andersen, HRW's executive director for Europe and Central Asia, said there is "little doubt" that Shikhmuradov's confession was dictated to him. Andersen said that past political cases in Turkmenistan emerged as "show trials."