TURKMENISTAN: Amnesty Fails to Free Religious Prisoners

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 5 January 2001

The amnesty which last month freed nearly two-thirds of Turkmenistan's prison population has not benefited any of the five religious prisoners known to Keston News Service.

Their names are not included in the long list of those freed, copies of which have been handed to diplomats based in Ashgabad, and Baptist and Jehovah's Witness sources have told Keston that they do not know of any release of their prisoners.

The long-mooted amnesty was decreed by President Saparmurat Niyazov on22 December to mark the Islamic holy night of Kadir, which marks theend of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. `The president has ordered that 12,000 out of 19,000 prisoners be set free,' a government official in Ashgabad told Reuters on 23 December.

A law passed in 1999 provides for a presidential amnesty for prisoners on the occasion of the Islamic festival. About 30,000 prisoners were released in 1999 and the beginning of 2000. The amnesty does not extend to those convicted of murder, rape, prostitution, spying, treason and plotting against the president. Those freed must swear on the Koran that they will not repeat their offences.

Several political prisoners were freed after publicly recanting and taking the oath of loyalty to the president. Two prominent political detainees, Nurberdi Nurmamedov and Pirimguly Tangryguliyev, were among a group of prisoners shown on television acknowledging their errors and promising not to err again, touching both the Koran and a dish of salt.

The five known religious prisoners are:

Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist, serving a 4 year sentence in labour camp at Seydy on charges of swindling which church members insist were instigated to obstruct his activity with the church. He was arrested on 18 December 1998 in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and fined on 19 March 1999, but was retried on 4 and 5 August 1999 in Ashgabad and given the increased sentence. He is married with five children.

Yazmammed Annamammedov, a Jehovah's Witness, serving a 4 year sentence for alleged possession of weapons, a charge the Jehovah's Witnesses maintain is false. He was sentenced in Serdar (Kyzyl-arbat) on 13 December 1999. He has been held in labour camp at Bezmein, although reports say this camp is now being closed. It is not clear where he is now being held. He is married with three children.

Guvanch Ashirov, a Jehovah's Witness, serving an 18 month sentence. He was arrested in August 1999 and sentenced in the town of Kazandjik on 6 September 1999. He has been held in the Bezmein camp, but his current whereabouts are also unknown. He was among a group of Jehovah's Witness prisoners who were granted amnesty in late 1999, but who was not freed after refusing to swear the oath of loyalty on a copy of the Koran.

Igor Nazarov, a Jehovah's Witness, serving an unknown sentence in a labour camp in Tedjen for refusing military service, his second prison term on the same charge. He was sentenced on 14 March 2000.

Nuryagdy Gaiyrov, a Jehovah's Witness, serving a one year sentence in a labour camp in Tedjen for refusing military service. He was sentenced on 19 January 2000, so his sentence is due to end soon. Gaiyrov was among a group of Jehovah's Witness prisoners who were granted amnesty in late 1999, but who was not freed after refusing to swear the oath of loyalty on a copy of the Koran.

In addition to these five known prisoners, there are a number of believers who have been subjected to internal deportation. (END)