ALMATY (AFP) – Reclusive Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has pardoned 612 prisoners including 26 foreign citizens ahead of festivities marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, state media reported Saturday.
A state television report in the gas-rich country noted Berdymukhamedov had signed the order of amnesty “to further strengthen the unity and solidarity of Turkmen society.”
The report did not clarify the nationalities of foreign prisoners released under the amnesty but Turkmenistan’s prisons are known to hold citizens of neighbouring countries convicted of smuggling and trafficking offenses.
Last year the government passed a law excluding prisoners convicted of drug trafficking from state amnesties.
The ex-Soviet country, which rights groups regularly list as one of the world’s least free states, often carries out pardons ahead of major state holidays.
On Thursday a number of prominent rights groups signed a letter addressed to Berdymukhamedov asking him to release a local journalist incarcerated for almost a year on narcotics charges.
Saparmamed Nepeskuliev who worked for Radio Free Europe’s Turkmen service was convicted on the “fabricated” charges on August 31 and has not been in contact with relatives since September, the letter stated.
The letter signed by RFE and groups including Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch also recalled the fate of another RFE contributor Ogulsapar Muradova who died in a Turkmen jail in 2006.
Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth largest known reserves of natural gas and borders Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.