Turkmenistan: Protestant Pastor Faces Five Years Imprisonment

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By Joseph C. DeCaro

MARY, TURKMENISTAN (Worthy News)-- A Pentecostal pastor remained in police custody Tuesday, August 31, in Turkmenistan where he faces five years imprisonment and confiscation of properties for "large-scale swindling", charges his wife and church members strongly deny, rights activists said.

Police arrested Ilmurad Nurliev, pastor of Peace to the World Pentecostal Church, for allegedly swindling money from two women who attended church meetings, although church members deny that ever happened.

"I was out at work when the police arrested my husband," said Maya Nurlieva, "and the first I knew was when he was allowed to call me from the investigator's office."

She said police refused to allow her to meet her husband and have also refused to give her any document certifying his arrest or detailing the reasons for it.

Maya said after her husband was arrested, police confiscated his certificate in preaching and refused to return it; they also took 150 dollars he had in his pocket.

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

Maya said that police and the investigators refused to discuss her husband's case with her.


Turkmenistan, which has a heavily Muslim population, is under international pressure to improve religious rights and to protect its tiny Christian minority.

The government is seen as the region's most autocratic. Christians and other devoted religious groups are often seen as a threat to its power base, rights groups have suggested.  The government has made clear however it wants to distance itself from former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov. Last week, a prominent 12-meter golden statue of Niyazov was taken down in the capital Ashgabat -- a move further eroding the personality cult around the late Central Asian leader.

Workers removed the statue on August 25 and were dismantling the base on August 26, said Radio Free Europe. The Arch of Neutrality was a centerpiece of the capital, Ashgabat, and the most distinctive monument built in honor of Niyazov.

The statue stood on a 70-meter white tile-clad tripod and rotated to face the sun. Niyazov -- who renamed himself the Great Turkmenbashi, the "Father of All Turkmen" -- died in 2006 after two decades of iron-fisted rule.

(With additional reporting from Worthy News International Correspondent Stefan Bos.)