ASHGABAT (Reuters) - Turkmenistan pardoned more than 3,700 prisoners, including around 30 foreigners, and released them from prison early Saturday in the latest amnesty ordered by the leader of the reclusive Central Asian state.
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, whose word is final in the mainly Muslim nation of 5.4 million, has continued the practice begun by his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov of releasing large numbers of prisoners to mark significant dates.
The latest release comes shortly before the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
"In Turkmenistan, we systematically pardon citizens of our own country and foreign states who have strayed, accepted their guilt and sincerely repented," Berdymukhamedov said in comments broadcast on state television.
Turkmen authorities have not disclosed the country's prison population. Though Berdymukhamedov has promised greater economic freedom, he holds virtually unlimited powers in a country that holds the world's fourth-largest natural gas reserves.
Only Eritrea and North Korea scored worse than ex-Soviet Turkmenistan in the 2010 press freedom index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, while vocal opponents to the president's rule have long since fled the country.
Tajikistan, another ex-Soviet republic in Central Asia, also plans a mass amnesty to commemorate 20 years of independence. It plans to release 15,000 prisoners, including some rebels who fought against the government in a civil war.
(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Sophie Hares)