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Turkmen Opposition Leader Says Jail Terms Prevent Dissidents' Return

Exiled Turkmen opposition leader Nurmuhammet Hanamov
Exiled Turkmen opposition leader Nurmuhammet Hanamov
An exiled Turkmen opposition leader says President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's call for dissidents to return and take part in the 2012 presidential election is unrealistic because most have been sentenced in absentia, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

In a government meeting televised nationwide on July 9, Berdymukhammedov said he will "not hesitate to hold dialogue with groups who call themselves opposition" and vowed to ensure that they have equal conditions with other Turkmen who want to run for president.

But Nurmuhammet Hanamov, the leader of the banned Republican Party of Turkmenistan living in Vienna, welcomed the president's statement but pointed out that most opposition politicians have been sentenced in absentia by Turkmen courts to several years in jail.

He told RFE/RL on July 10 that opposition members are ready to prove their innocence in international courts, but doesn't think many of the opposition activists living in exile would risk returning to Turkmenistan when they have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms.

"If we return now, we will definitely be jailed in line with Turkmen law," Hanamov said. "The authorities are afraid to talk to us; they treat us as 'enemies of the people and terrorists.' If they would begin a dialogue with us then we would [have greater trust] in them."

Berdymukhammedov said a legal framework has been set up to create a multiparty parliamentary system, but he said he will not support "the unjustified reproduction of numerous parties" and that it will be sufficient to have two parties that are "supported by citizens."

A new law on presidential elections in Turkmenistan was adopted in late May, according to which a presidential candidate must have the backing of a political party or collect 50,000 signatures to register and compete.

Since Berdymukhammedov took power after the 2006 death of his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, he has made several pledges to dismantle the repressive apparatus created by Niyazov.

But Turkmenistan remains a one-party state that exercises strict control over the media and all aspects of civil society.