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Tajikistan to free jailed rebels in mass amnesty
by Roman Kozhevnikov
Reuters Translate This Article
27 July 2011
DUSHANBE (Reuters) - Tajikistan plans to release 15,000 prisoners, including some Islamist rebels who fought against the government in the late 1990s, in an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of the Central Asian state's independence.
The biggest amnesty in Tajikistan's history will set free approximately half of the country's prison population and marks a significant policy reversal after more than 150 people were jailed in 2010 for membership of banned religious groups.
Official state news agency Khovar announced the amnesty proposal on its website, www.khovar.tj, on Wednesday. Ex-Soviet Tajikistan will celebrate 20 years of independence in September.
Tajikistan, a mountainous country of 7.5 million people bordering Afghanistan and China, is the poorest of the 15 former Soviet republics and relies heavily on remittances from migrant workers.
The amnesty law, sent by President Imomali Rakhmon for approval by parliament, for the first time proposes the release of religious radicals and rebels who fought government troops.
The law refers specifically to armed rebellions in 1997 and 1998 that were organised by Makhmoud Khudoyberdiyev, who was once loyal to Rakhmon before turning on the government during a civil war that killed tens of thousands of people in the 1990s.
It said those rebels who had already served three quarters of their sentences would be released.
Interior Minister Abdurahim Kakharov said on July 20 that he believed Khudoyberdiyev, who has not been heard from since 1998, could be preparing to launch more attacks to support a growing insurgency in Tajikistan.
Government forces have been battling an insurgency in the country's east since a jailbreak last August was followed by an ambush on a military convoy that killed 28 government troops. A group linked to al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.
Under the planned amnesty, Tajikistan will also release invalids, veterans of World War Two and the Soviet war in Afghanistan, army deserters and those suffering from cancer or tuberculosis.
The country has had 11 amnesties in its history, most recently in November 2009, when around 10,000 prisoners were released. Amnesties do not include those convicted of murder or terrorism.
(Writing by Robin Paxton)
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