Ashgabat (AsiaNews/F18) - The government of Turkmenistan released eight political prisoners on 22 October, most of them conscientious objectors, the Norway-based Forum 18 reported today.
All the prisoners were held in a forced labour camp in the eastern part of the country. Six had objected to compulsory military service on grounds of conscience and two had been imprisoned on fabricated charges to punish them for exercising their freedom of religion or belief.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov granted the amnesty on 21 October to mark the 23rd anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence from the Soviet Union, which is celebrated on 26-27 October.
In addition to granting the release, the presidential decree frees the prisoners from further punishment.
Ruslan Narkuliev, a recently imprisoned conscientious objector, is not among the beneficiaries of the amnesty. A 21 year-old Jehovah's Witness, Narkuliev was sentenced to two years in prison on 30 September for avoiding military service.
The Turkmen constitution defines military service as a "sacred duty" and does not offer any alternative service. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years.
Turkmenistan has a population of 4.4 million; almost 90 per cent of Muslim, mostly Sunnis, but with some Shias.
Christians, once numerous, represent about 9 per cent, mostly Orthodox, of the total population.