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A Day in November

Whether we want it or not, the 25 November went down in the history of Turkmenistan. On this day, five years ago, an assassination attempt against the President of the country S.Niyazov took place as was stated by the Turkmen authorities.

This was followed by dozens of people being arrested across the country and receiving lengthy terms of imprisonment. Five persons were sentenced to death. A wave of repression hit hundreds of families.

I happened to share a prison cell with some of these people. They were educated and well aware of what would happen to them. After the announced verdicts they had no illusions that Niyazov would never pardon even those who received relatively mild sentences. This was particularly evident in the light of the fact that in addition to the ungrounded long terms of imprisonment all of them were declared betrayers of the motherland, so they were not covered by any actions of pardon.

Yet, they always placed hope in a review of their criminal cases. They were confident that irrespective of the bias of the judicial system and the hysteria that reigned in the country, had the judges followed the criminal code and not the terms and detention conditions personally determined by Niyazov, many of those arrested could get off with minimal terms of imprisonment.

Niyazov has gone. Ms. Atajanova, Prosecutor General who conducted the criminal case on the assassination attempt is serving her second year in prison. The ministers who used to head the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at that time and directed the investigation of this criminal case have been dismissed. So was the chairman of the Supreme Court.

At the same time, the present President of the country pledged to follow Niyazov`s policies. Yet, on the other hand, he has created the image of a reformer and even a bit of a democrat in the eyes of the Turkmenistani citizens and the international community. Whoever Berdymukhammedov presents himself as, he will have to deal with the issue of "betrayers of the motherland". He is urged to do so by many states and international organizations.

How is the President going to solve this problem? He might pardon these people or, at least, some of them. He might take this case more seriously and announce the review of the cases of "betrayers of the motherland". If Berdymukhammedov decides to take this step, this will be regarded as a true and strong move toward the democratization of the country by the international community.

It is of little importance for the prisoners by what means they will be freed or, at least, receive a chance to get in contact with their families (currently they are deprived of the right of correspondence). They are desperate for justice. Despite the fact that they are called betrayers of the motherland and criminals, they are, above all, human beings. And they also fall under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I am not aware of what happened to my cellmates. Yklym Yklymov was sentenced to death, Dovlet Gaipov – to 20 years imprisonment, Yazgeldy Gundogdyev – to 25 years, Akmurad Kabulov – to 8 years. I can only hope that they are safe and healthy; or as healthy as one can be during five years imprisonment in a strict-regime Turkmen prison in absolute