Turkmenistan: Appeal for Imprisoned Pastor (Update)

Friday, September 17, 2010

by Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News International Correspondent

MARY, TURKMENISTAN (Worthy News)-- The wife of an imprisoned Protestant pastor appealed to international observers -- including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe -- to attend any future trial if her husband's investigation reaches that stage.

"I want them to be there as witnesses to see that justice is done," Maya Nurlieva said. "He is innocent of the accusations against him and I want him back home. All this is being done because of his faith."

Nurlieva wrote to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, asking him to look into the case.

Protestant Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, who led "Light to the World Church in Mary," was arrested Aug. 27 on charges of large-scale swindling under Article 228, Part 2, of the Criminal Code. Three people wrote statements to the police that Nurliev took 1,400 Manats ($491 US) from them, but his wife and other church members insist these allegations are false and were obtained only under police pressure.

"No one is being pressured to write statements," said prosecutor Razmurad Durdiev. "All is being done in accordance with the law."

When questioned as to why prosecutors believe Pastor Nurliev unlawfully took the money, Durdiev replied: "Ask him where he got the money from."

Nurlieva was denied access to her husband since his arrest, but as far as she knows, he is still being held in a cell designed for 12 which holds 47 prisoners.

"Many of the prisoners smoke and the atmosphere is said to be terrible," she said. "My husband is a non-smoker and he will be affected terribly. He has already asked to be moved, but in vain."

Nurlieva said her husband has diabetes: he goes to a hospital for monthly treatments, but she fears without this regular treatment, his health will suffer.

Pastor Nurliev was barred from leaving Turkmenistan since 2007, the same year of his church's unanswered registration application. Police began questioning church members in early 2010 and pressured them into writing accusatory statements against Pastor Nurliev in order to form case against him; one church member was told she would be imprisoned if she did not comply, but they all refused to do so despite threats by the police.

Eventually, police got three witnesses to write accusations against Pastor Nurliev; two were women who had attended several church meetings and who, according to church members, now bitterly regret it. The other accuser is not known by church members.

Nurlieva said authorities were singling-out her husband because he is an ethnic Turkmen Christian leader; officials often pressure ethnic Turkmens belonging to non-Muslim faiths to abandon their religion by accusing them of treason.

Nurlieva said police still have not returned her husband's passport, money, certificate of preaching and other items they took duirng his arrest.

"All they gave back were the keys to our flat," she said.

All religious communities in Turkmenistan are under government control; even Islam has been subordinated to the state, while other faiths remain under close surveillance. Religious communities are not able to acquire and maintain places of worship, nor are they able to teach religious education, publish religious books, or invite foreigners to visit for religious purposes.