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Turkmenistan President Pardons Activist - 2003-04-02


The president of Turkmenistan has pardoned an environmental activist whose jailing last month sparked an outcry from human rights groups. The activist was sentenced to three years in prison for concealing a criminal act. Prosecutors charged he knew in advance of an alleged assassination attempt against President Saparmurad Niyazov.

Turkmen state television announced the release of activist Farid Tukhbatullin, saying he had been freed on the order of President Niyazov.

A broadcaster read a statement, said to be written by the activist, in which he allegedly recognized his guilt and pledged his allegiance to the president.

The statement also ran in Wednesday's Turkmen state press. But there has been no independent confirmation of the release.

Mr. Tukhbatullin was convicted in a half-day trial last month. Prosecutors accused him of doing nothing to warn authorities, despite allegedly having advance knowledge of an attack characterized by Turkmen officials as an attempt on President Niyazov's life.

President Niyazov was in a car, riding through the capital city, Ashkhabad, last November when gunmen opened fire on his motorcade. The president was unharmed.

Prosecutors charged that Mr. Tukhabatullin learned of the alleged plan to assassinate the president while attending a human rights conference in Moscow that was also attended by exiled Turkmen opposition leaders.

In the days after the attack, Turkmen authorities rounded up hundreds of people, and at least 46 have since been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for allegedly participating in the plot.

Europe's largest human rights body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and other human rights groups have spoken out against what they called "show trials" taking place in Turkmenistan and accused Turkmen authorities of forcing confessions through torture.

In a statement carried by the official press Wednesday, the Turkmen president said he had ordered Mr. Tukhbatullin's release in line with the norms of international law recognized by the OSCE, of which Turkmenistan is a member.

A report issued earlier this week by the U.S. State Department expressed particular concern about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, saying it had worsened considerably since the alleged assassination attempt.