In these days many mass media reporters (except for the Turkmen ones) discuss the lists of prisoners amnestied by the President of Turkmenistan. All wonder whether Berdymukhammedov will release the political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, former high-ranking government officials and the participants in the failed assassination attempt against former president Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002.
The answer to this question is indeed important; as it demonstrates to what extent the present-day government is ready to reform the political system in Turkmenistan, and what the future of Turkmenistan will be.
Many people, including human rights organizations, tend to forget about other victims of the Turkmen regime - the relatives and associates of those convicted and forced to leave the country.
The practice of collective punishment used to exist and continues in Turkmenistan, when not only the person who has committed some offence against the government is punished (convicted by a court) but his entire family, relatives, and associates.
Most relatives of "traitors to the motherland," dissidents, oppositionists, human rights activists and other persons who fell out of favour with the regime until now suffer violations of their rights. They are deprived of the opportunity to work, study, or leave the country. Some of them are stripped of their homes and possessions, which have been confiscated "for the government use". There are even cases when relatives end up in prisons not due to crimes they have committed, but merely because they are relatives of those who fell out of favour with the regime.
Thus, I consider it premature to discuss whether the president will pardon this or that prominent prisoner. Above all, the authorities should abandon the practice of collective punishment, and never use it in the future. The relatives of those repressed must not feel guilty and not deprived of their rights. They must at least have the opportunity to work and to study.
Berdymukhammedov ordered to employ those released under the amnesty decree, and local authorities will certainly try to fulfil the presidential decree. However, if the Turkmen leadership gave an order to law-enforcement agencies to cease persecution of the relatives and associates of those unfavourable to the regime, and not to prevent them from finding jobs or their children from getting education, this could be regarded as a true step toward improving the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.
After that one could also hope for the next steps.