The fact that the Turkmen government frees around 10,000 prisoners in a single act of amnesty every year gives some indication of just how many people are going through the criminal justice system there.
Every year since 1999, the authorities have announced a mass amnesty for Laylat al-Qadr, an important date in the Muslim calendar which this year falls on the night of October 19-20 in Turkmenistan. They have already said that 10,056 convicts will be freed in this year’s release.
The biggest ever amnesty was in 2002, when 16,200 people got out of jail. The next two years saw 7,000 and 9,000 convicts freed, and in 2005 the figure was put at 8,000. The country’s prosecution service said there were 4,137 inmates left in prison after last year’s amnesty because they were not eligible for amnesty. They included people convicted of murder and treason, those deemed to be “enemies of the people”, and former officials accused of causing substantial losses to the country.
NBCentralAsia commentators who have looked at these figures are puzzled about where so many criminals can be coming from.
Official figures for the total prison population are not made public, but some independent sources estimate that up to 18,000 people, out of a total population estimated at six million, are in the prison system at any one time. In relative terms, this is comparable with the prison populations of other Central Asian states.
The difference is that these other countries do not have mass amnesties. The conclusion is that thousands of Turkmen citizens are being processed by the justice system every year.
Muhammad Tahir, an expert on Central Asia, suggests that if there were 6,000 people still in prison immediately after the 2005 amnesty, one may deduce that another 10,000 have been imprisoned since then.
According to Turkmen human rights activist Tajigul Begmedova, “Every year, thousands of inmates are freed, but after a while the prisons fill up again because the judicial process is less than transparent and charges are often fabricated by the law enforcement agencies. So Turkmenistan is forced to declare an amnesty.”
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.) IWPR