By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/ASHGABAT (BosNewsLife)– A Protestant pastor in Turkmenistan was sentenced to a four-year prison term Thursday, October 21, on what church members said were “fake charges” of swindling to “punish” him for his religious activities.
Judge Agajan Akjaev of Mary Town Court in south-eastern Turkmenistan ruled that Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev will serve his sentence in the general regime labor camp in Seydi area, trial observers said.
Well-informed religious advocacy group Forum 18, which closely monitored the case, quoted his wife Maya Nurlieva as saying that the court “also ruled that Ilmurad is a drug addict and ordered forced treatment for this” in prison. “This is unjust and a slander,” she reportedly added.
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 reportedly wrote statements to the police that Nurliev took 1,400 Manats ($491 US) from them, but his wife and other church members claimed the allegations “are false” and were obtained under police pressure.
They also said he looked “very, very pale and thin” at the trial. Among ‘witnesses’ produced by the authorities was a women who was in jail on criminal charges when the authorities claimed she gave Pastor Nurliev’s money, added Forum 18.
“SET UP TRIAL”
Friends of Nurliev present at the trial said “it was clear the whole thing was set up”. Nurliev was surrounded at the trial by MSS secret police officers, who allegedly prevented his wife from coming close to her husband. “They didn’t even allow him to kiss me,” Maya Nurlieva was heard saying.
The case comes shortly after in mid-September a Jehovah’s Witness, Ahmet Hudaybergenov, was reportedly sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for conscientiously objecting to compulsory military service.
Forum 18 said it was concerned that Hudaybergenov and Nurliev are expected to be sent to Seydi labour camp, where Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness prisoners of conscience have previously been held. The group said there were indications that some of these prisoners were tortured in the camp with psychotropic drugs.
Officials could not immediately be reached for comments, but earlier authorities denied wrongdoing. “All is being done in accordance with the law,” said prosecutor Razmurad Durdiev in a published reaction. 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.
RELIGIOUS COMMINITIES CONTROLLED
All religious communities in predominantly Islamic Turkmenistan are under government control.
Even Islam has been subordinated to the state, while other faiths remain under close surveillance, Western observers say.
The government of the former Soviet republic of about five million people is seen as the region’s most autocratic, althoughh observers say the strict isolation imposed by eccentric dictator Saparmurat Niyazov has lifted somewhat after his death.
In 2007 Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was sworn in as president after winning elections with 89 percent of the vote.
Rights groups and Western diplomats condemned the election as rigged.