Turkmenistan pardons over 1,000 prisoners for Ramadan

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Tightly-controlled Turkmenistan has pardoned more than 1,000 prisoners ahead of festivities marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, state media reported on Saturday.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed an amnesty order “for 1,029 convicts” in the ex-Soviet central Asian country -- nearly twice as many as the 612 convicts released in last year’s mass pardon -- Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper reported.

The president called for those pardoned to “contribute to the large-scale work being carried out in the country and faithfully labor for the benefit of the Motherland,” Neutral Turkmenistan reported.

Turkmenistan’s penitentiary system is among the most closed in the world, although the country’s foreign ministry claims that some foreign ambassadors were allowed to visit prisons in two cities last year.

Earlier this month rights watchdog Human Rights Watch called for the release of 18 men who received sentences of up to 25 years in the gas-rich country in February and warned they may have been tortured by Turkmen authorities.

The men were reportedly arrested due to their affiliation with schools associated with the Hizmet movement founded by US-based Muslim cleric and educator Fethullah Gulen.

Since a coup attempt in Turkey last July, Ankara has pressed other countries to close schools and universities linked to the preacher, who it has asked the United States to extradite.

Turkmenistan, whose people speak a Turkic language, closed most of its Gulen-affiliated schools in 2011.

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