Turkmen leader declares amnesty after year in power

ASHGABAT – Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov pardoned more than a thousand prisoners on Thursday — the first anniversary of his rule in the gas-producing Caspian nation.

Sworn in on February 14 last year after the death of absolute leader Saparmurat Niyazov, Berdymukhamedov has vowed to open up the long-isolated state and carry out liberal reforms.

A decree published late on Wednesday said 1,269 prisoners would be freed from jails and sent home.

Human rights groups say Turkmenistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has a large but unknown number of political prisoners to whom the Red Cross has had no access.

Niyazov, who jailed many opponents during his 21-year rule, freed thousands of prisoners every year in a televised ritual known as the “Night of All Forgiveness”.

Berdymukhamedov pardoned 9,000 prisoners last October. Turkmenistan’s total prison population is unclear. Official figures put it at 18,000 in October 2006.

Although the new leader has reversed some of Niyazov’s harshest measures, the Central Asian country remains classified, along with North Korea, as the world’s worst violator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

It is off limits to most Western reporters and domestic media never criticize state policies.

There are no registered political parties other than the pro-presidential Democratic Party.

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