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Turkmenistan Pardons Over 1,200 Prisoners

Saturday 16 May 2015

ASHGABAT (AFP) –Turkmenistan has pardoned more than 1,200 prisoners in an amnesty, state media reported Saturday, quoting President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov.

The amnesty saw 1,202 Turkmen citizens and 13 foreigners walk free ahead of the Constitution Day on May 18, state media reported. Turkmenistan gave no details of the non-nationals amnestied but they are believed to be mostly citizens of neighbouring countries arrested for trafficking drugs.

The amnesty comes after Berdymuhamedov flew to Vienna earlier this week to meet Austrian President Heinz Fischer, who later confirmed at a press briefing that he had touched on widespread rights abuses in the country. Advocacy groups had appealed to Fischer to press Turkmenistan on its rights record which places it close to the bottom of freedom rankings conducted by international organisations.

However, Turkmenistan is seen by Brussels as key to diversifying from Russia-sourced gas imports and EU energy boss Maros Sefcovic visited the capital Ashgabat at the end of April. Western officials are hopeful that gas from Turkmenistan, which has the fourth largest reserves in the world, might reach Europe as soon as 2019 via an ambitious $5 bln plus pipeline link that would pass along the seabed of the Caspian Sea.

Russia, which supplies around 30% of the EU’s gas, has voiced its opposition to the link, ostensibly on environmental grounds.

Turkmenistan outlawed the death penalty in 1999 during the reign of Saparmurat Niyazov, who styled himself “Father of the Turkmen” until his death in 2006.

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