By Joseph DeCaro, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent with BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/MARY (BosNewsLife)— The wife of an imprisoned Protestant pastor has appealed to international observers — including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — 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 in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Sunday, September 19. “He is innocent of the accusations against him and I want him back home. All this is being done because of his faith.”
Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev of the Pentecostal ‘Light to the World Church’ was detained August 27 at his home in the south-eastern city of Mary on charges of large-scale swindling. 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 under police pressure. If convicted, he could face five years imprisonment, trial observers said.
His wife said she has also written to Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, asking him to look into the case.
Authorities have denied wrongdoing. “No one is being pressured to write statements,” said prosecutor Razmurad Durdiev in a published reaction. “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 told reporters she has been denied access to her husband since his arrest, but added he is believed to be held in a cell designed for 12 which holds 47 inmates. “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 also needs monthly hospital treatments for diabetes and that she fears without this regular medical attention, his health will suffer.
This is not the first time Pastor Nurliev has faced pressure from authorities. In 2007 he barred from leaving Turkmenistan after his church applied for official registration, Christians said. Police reportedly began questioning church members earlier this year, and pressured them into writing accusatory statements against Pastor Nurliev as part of efforts to launch a case against him.
One church member was allegedly told she would be imprisoned if she did not comply. Eventually, police got three witnesses to write accusations against Pastor Nurliev; two were women who had attended several church meetings and who now bitterly regret it, according to church members with close knowledge about the situation. 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, according to rights activists.
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, Western observers say.