Raids, fines, exit denial, bloodied hands

Police and other unidentified officials who raided the home of a Baptist family in the northern city of Dashoguz dragged the father of the family, 77-year-old Begjan Shirmedov, from the house by his collar and beat the hands of his 68-year-old wife until they bled, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. About 15 church members were questioned and religious literature seized. The raid came two weeks after a raid on another Protestant meeting in the city, with fines on three participants. One of those fined – Oleg Piyashev – was revisiting his homeland from Russia. A Russian and Turkmen citizen, he was banned from leaving Turkmenistan at Ashgabad airport on 23 September. The Russian Embassy told Forum 18 it is awaiting an explanation from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry.


A Turkmen-born Protestant Oleg Piyashev has been denied exit from Turkmenistan to return to his home in Russia, where he lives with his wife and family, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. He was barred exit at Ashgabad [Ashgabat] airport on 23 September, a week after he was among three Protestants fined for holding a religious meeting in the northern city of Dashoguz. In an apparently related incident, police and local officials raided a Baptist home in the city, detaining and questioning 77-year-old Baptist leader Begjan Shirmedov, beating the hands of his wife until they bled and threatening church members with prosecution.

One Protestant who knows the Shirmedov family complained of the "crude" behaviour of the officials "who violated all ethical norms" during the 23 September raid. "I am very sad that this lawless behaviour took place without regard for the individual," the Protestant, who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18. "They treated an elderly man like a tramp in front of his wife, his children, church members and neighbours without fear of having to answer for their actions."

The raids and fines in Dashoguz followed similar raids and fines on a number of Protestants across Turkmenistan in recent months (see F18News 5 September 2012

Forum 18 was unable to find any official at the national level in the capital Ashgabad prepared to comment on the raids, threats and fines. The man who answered the telephone of Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, Deputy Chair of the government's Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, put the phone down on 27 September as soon as Forum 18 called. Subsequent calls went unanswered.

Similarly, no-one at the Dashoguz Regional Hyakimlik [administration] was available to comment. The telephone of the Hyakimlik's religious affairs department went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 27 September.

Raid, fines

Piyashev – who left Turkmenistan for Russia in 2003 and now lives in Tomsk – was on a short visit back to his homeland when he was caught in a police raid on a religious meeting in a private flat in Dashoguz on 5 September, Protestants told Forum 18. Police found an interview Piyashev had filmed with Shirmedov about Christian poetry he had written and confiscation of copies in February after the poet had sought to have a small book of them printed locally (see F18News 8 February 2012

During the raid, police took a copy of Piyashev's interview. They also brought an administrative case against Piyashev and two other local Protestants.

All three were tried at Dashoguz City Court on 14 September, where they were found guilty of violating Article 205 of the Code of Administrative Offences ("violation of the law on religious organisations"), which carries a punishment of fines of between five and ten times the minimum monthly wage for refusing to register a religious community or participating in an unregistered religious community. They were each fined 750 Manats (1,500 Norwegian Kroner, 200 Euros or 260 US Dollars). Despite insisting that their meeting was not illegal, the three have all paid the fines.

No exit

Piyashev – who has both Turkmen and Russian citizenship – was due to leave Turkmenistan to return home on 23 September. Despite having a valid ticket, Migration Service officials prevented him at Ashgabad Airport from boarding his flight. They refused to give him a reason, telling him that he should seek an explanation from the Migration Service in Dashoguz, Protestants told Forum 18.

On 24 September, once back in Dashoguz, Piyashev visited the local head of the Migration Service, who told him they had no complaints against him and that all his documents are in order. However, he told Piyashev he is "temporarily" banned from travelling. When Piyashev said that he has a Russian passport, the official responded: "A Russian passport means nothing to us."

An official of the Border Service at Ashgabad Airport told Forum 18 on 27 September that he could find no record of Piyashev among those denied the right to leave the country on 23 September. However, he said the Border Service would have no record if an individual had been denied the right to leave by the Migration Service, which operates the control before the final Border Service control.

The telephone of the Migration Service at the airport went unanswered on 27 September.

Piyashev has sought the help of the Consular Department of Russia's Embassy in Ashgabad to return home to his family in Russia, Protestants told Forum 18.

Aleksei Mosin, spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Ashgabad, told Forum 18 that it had received an appeal for assistance in Piyashev's case. Its Consular Department had investigated and established that Piyashev has joint Turkmen and Russian citizenship.

"According to the Agreement on Settlement of Dual Citizenship Issues between Russia and Turkmenistan, while he is in Turkmenistan he is under the jurisdiction of the Turkmen authorities," Mosin told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 27 September. Since Piyashev is a Russian citizen, the Embassy requested Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry to clarify why Piyashev was denied the possibility to board the flight to Russia. "At this stage we are waiting for the response from the Turkmen side."

Violent raid

A group of about six officials – two of them in police uniforms – raided Shirmedov's Dashoguz home on Sunday 23 September. They arrived during a home meeting of his Baptist congregation, Path of Faith Church, attended by about 15 church members. Almost all those present – men, women and children – were taken in a bus to the Hyakimlik. "Begjan was dragged out of the house by his collar," one Protestant complained to Forum 18, pointing out that he is an elderly man who should be treated with more respect. They say his son Shohrat tried to protect him.

At the Hyakimlik, church members were questioned about their religious activity by Hudainazar Artykov, the deputy to Dashoguz Regional imam and state religious affairs official Rovshen Allaberdiev. Officials took fingerprints from Begjan Shirmedov and his son Shohrat "as if they were terrorists", Protestants complained to Forum 18. Later that day the church members were released.

While the group of church members were being questioned at the Hyakimlik, another group of officials searched every room in the family home. They seized Christian books, booklets and CDs.

Swearing, beating

Officials raiding the house also swore at and beat Begjan Shirmedov's 68-year-old wife Kerime (Klara) Ataeva on the hands after she complained that it was illegal to seize their literature, that they should not treat a senior citizen like her husband with such disrespect and that they were walking in her home wearing their shoes. When she complained and showed her bloodied hands to another official, he responded: "I saw nothing."

When officials asked where the literature had come from, family members insisted they had collected the books over many years as they have been Christians since the mid-1990s.

When officials told them that religious activity without state registration is illegal, church members responded that they have been seeking such registration in vain since 2004, when the registration of non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox communities once again became possible.

Path of Faith Church lodged registration documents in 2005, but these were rejected because of "mistakes". The Church again lodged its application in 2008, but these were returned by the Justice Ministry two years' later. It has since tried a further time to register.

The official who answered the telephone of the Justice Ministry department in Ashgabad which is supposed to register religious organisations told Forum 18 on 27 September that the line was bad and asked to call back. All subsequent calls went unanswered.

Another city, another fine

Among other Protestants to be fined in recent months was one in the capital Ashgabad, fellow Protestants told Forum 18. On 14 September, Judge S. Taylyyew of Kopetdag District Court in Ashgabad found a local Protestant guilty of violating Article 205, Part 1 of the Code of Administrative Offences.

The Protestant was accused of creating groups affiliated with an unregistered Protestant community and reading "illegal" religious literature obtained from Russia. The Judge fined the Protestant 375 Manats (750 Norwegian Kroner, 100 Euros or 130 US Dollars). This is about the average monthly wage of a government employee such as a teacher in the capital.

Exit denials

A number of religious believers – including former prisoners of conscience - are known to be among those to have been placed on the exit black list. Among them is Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, leader of a Protestant church in Mary who was imprisoned from August 2010 to February 2012. He discovered he was barred from leaving in 2007, when he was taken off an aeroplane at Ashgabad Airport (see F18News 18 April 2012

Also on the exit black list is Baptist leader Shagildy Atakov, as well as his wife, all their nine children (who range in age from 22 to 5) and his brother. Atakov was imprisoned from 1998 to 2002 to punish him for his faith. He learnt he was on the black list in 2006, while his wife and children discovered this in 2008 when they were barred from leaving at Ashgabad Airport (see F18News 18 April 2012

"We have a great need to be allowed to travel," Atakov told Forum 18 from his home in the village of Kaakhka near Ashgabad on 28 August. "We need not only to travel for medical treatment but to have fellowship with other believers."

Atakov added that he has again tried to get an explanation for the exit ban from the Migration Service. "They replied most recently in the summer to say we are still banned from travelling, but again gave no reasons," he complained.


Upsurge in raids, threats, fines

Protestant Christians have faced an upsurge since late July in raids, threats of expulsion from villages or social ostracism, threats that their children will be kept under close scrutiny in school and other harassment, Protestants have told Forum 18 News Service from Turkmenistan. At least three separate administrative trials of Protestants have taken place, leading to large fines. "The situation has got markedly worse since July and we don't know why," one Protestant, who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 in late August.

Several Protestants have told Forum 18 that they fear their children will face discrimination and harassment in schools, especially in rural areas. The new academic year began in Turkmenistan's schools on 1 September. "Children of believers can be singled out by head teachers and individual teachers for ridicule and can have their grades lowered because of the faith of their parents," one Protestant complained to Forum 18. The Protestant pointed to several such instances in the academic year that finished in the summer.

Raids, threats

The three trials in Lebap Region come after intermittent harassment of Protestants over the spring and summer.

The state-approved Imam of Gubadag District of Dashoguz Region, who is also the District representative of the Gengesh, summoned several local Protestants to the hyakimlik (district administration) in late July, Protestants complained to Forum 18. Also present were other administration officials. "They threatened that if they continue to attend church meetings, they will be kicked out of their jobs," a Protestant told Forum 18. "If they attend for a second time, they will be imprisoned." The Protestants were summoned to the district administration again in late August.

On 25 June, police raided the home of a Protestant in Tejen, a town south-east of Ashgabad. He was at work, and only his mother was at home. When he returned that evening, he found his mother crying. "She told him men in civilian clothes had visited, gone into his room and seized seven of his Christian books, including Bibles, and asked many questions," Protestants told Forum 18. They had ordered him to come to the police station the following day to write a statement.

When the Protestant arrived at the police station on 26 June, his local police officer told him he was in trouble with the MSS secret police. An MSS officer took him into a room set up for recording, and interrogated him about his work and his religious activity. "He asked why he did not pray the namaz [Muslim prayers], adding that all young men of his age go to the mosque," Protestants told Forum 18. The Protestant responded that what he believed and what religious books he reads was his business. The MSS officer then shouted at him and threatened him.

After the interrogation, the local police officer told the Protestant that his career was at an end. Police had already summoned for questioning his business partner (the two ran a shop together that they owned). They closed down the shop after confiscating many of the goods and fittings, including telephones. "His business partner wasn't a Christian – so he suffered simply because of [the Protestant's] faith," Protestants told Forum 18. The local police officer told him that if he did not want his mother to be upset again with further questioning, he should leave the town. The Protestant did so.

Members of other Protestant communities in Tejen had already faced threats. One evening in late March, the MSS had sent a car of its officers to raid a private flat where a group of five elderly Protestant women met regularly for worship, Protestants told Forum 18. The secret police officers waited outside the block of flats until the meeting had finished before intervening. "There was no trial, but the MSS officers frightened the women so much that they stopped their meetings for worship," Protestants complained.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Turkmenistan the wife of a Protestant leader left her job as a doctor at a government clinic in a rural area early in 2012. In the summer she applied to regain it, but was told that because of her husband's position the clinic could not offer her a job. "She's a good doctor, and although clinics in rural areas find it hard to attract qualified doctors, they refused to take her back because of her husband," one Protestant told Forum 18. "This is discrimination."

Fines, threats

Three administrative trials of Protestant Christians are known to have taken place from late August in Lebap Region of eastern Turkmenistan. All were accused of violating Article 205 of the Code of Administrative Offences ("violation of the law on religious organisations"), which carries a punishment of fines of between five and ten times the minimum monthly wage for refusing to register a religious community or participating in an unregistered religious community. Fines can be doubled for repeat offenders (see Forum 18 Turkmenistan religious freedom survey

In a village in Serdarabad District, the Deputy Hyakim (administration chief) responsible for culture Almagul Nazarova, Lebap's Regional Imam, local Imams and Aksakals (elders) summoned a meeting of all local residents. They threatened to ostracise or expel all local Protestants. They also warned that once school resumed on 1 September, all Protestant children would be kept under special observation.

At the same time, at least four local Protestants were questioned and threatened by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and the Police's 6th Department, which notionally counters terrorism and organised crime. Three were then accused of violating Article 205 of the Code of Administrative Offences. At their trial at Serdarabad District Court, all three are believed to have each been fined 400 Manats (140 US Dollars).

In Galkynysh District, two Protestants from a local village were brought to trial on 27 August at the District Court under Article 205, Protestants told Forum 18. On 31 August one was fined 750 Manats (265 US Dollars), while the other is also believed to have been fined. When one of the two Protestants tried to appeal against the fine, the judge who had handed down the punishment said it was impossible to appeal against it. Court executors then threatened to seize the family's property if the fine was not paid.

On 30 August, one Protestant in Turkmenabad went on trial at the City Court under Administrative Code Article 205, Protestants told Forum 18. The following day the court handed down a fine of 1,200 Manats (420 US Dollars).

No official comment

Forum 18 was unable to find any official at the national level in the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] prepared to comment on the raids, threats and fines. The man who answered the telephone of Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, Deputy Chair of the government's Gengesh (Council) for Religious Affairs, put the phone down on 4 September as soon as Forum 18 called. Subsequent calls went unanswered. The man who answered the phone of Fr Andrei Sapunov, a Russian Orthodox priest who is also a Gengesh Deputy Chair with nominal responsibility for Christian affairs, told Forum 18 the same day that it was a wrong number.

An official of the government's National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Ashgabad told Forum 18 on 4 September that its Director, Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, was not present and put the phone down. Other numbers at the Institute went unanswered. The telephones of Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, and his Deputy Murad Atabaev went unanswered on 4 and 5 September.

Telephones at the Education Ministry went unanswered on 5 September.

An official of the Gengesh office for Lebap Region in the regional centre Turkmenabad [Turkmenabat] (formerly Charjou) refused to discuss anything with Forum 18 on 5 September and put the phone down. No other Lebap regional officials were prepared to discuss anything either.



Four fines for Bibles

After the local police officer in Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabad found Bibles in the possessions of three guests at a local Protestant's home, all four were taken to the government's Council for Religious Affairs for questioning, then held for an hour in an overcrowded detention cell, before being taken to court, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. Although the judge refused to try them without proper documentation, they were brought back and fined by the same judge a week later for "violation of the law on religious organisations".

Confiscation, questioning

Trouble for the four Protestants began when the local police officer telephoned to say he was coming to check the home of a local Protestant in Ashgabad. Three Protestants from outside the capital were staying with the local Protestant. "You can't refuse when the local police officer asks to check your home," one Ashgabad resident familiar with the case told Forum 18. They asked that the four not be identified to protect them from further harassment.

During his 20 February visit, the police officer found one Bible in each of the visitors' bags. The Bibles were confiscated, together with at least one mobile phone, and all four Protestants were taken to the Gengesh. There they were questioned about their religious activity. The Gengesh official reportedly shouted at them, accusing them of having brought "illegal" religious literature into Turkmenistan. However, the official had a copy of the same Bible in his office.

The Gengesh official then threatened to have drugs planted on the four. "Then you'll be in on another charge," he warned them.

The four Protestants were then taken to a detention facility, where they were put in a cell designed for about four detainees but which contained 17, with no room to sit down. After an hour they were brought out to be taken to a judge. However, she refused to hear a case against the four, insisting that no trial could take place as police had presented no proof of wrongdoing and no documentation.

Despite complaining that the four had created undue work for them, police were obliged to let the four Protestants go. But officers told them they were not allowed to leave Ashgabad while the investigation against them continued.

Trial, fines

The four Protestants were summoned to a local Ashgabad court on 27 February, for a trial presided over by the same judge. All four were found guilty of violating Article 205 of the Code of Administrative Offences ("violation of the law on religious organisations"). The judge fined each of them 357 Manats (714 Norwegian Kroner, 94 Euros or 125 US Dollars).

Article 205 specifies fines of between five and ten times the minimum monthly wage for refusing to register a religious community or participating in an unregistered religious community. Fines can be doubled for repeat offenders (see Turkmenistan religious freedom survey

"Perhaps there had been pressure on the judge to force her to change her stance," an Ashgabad resident familiar with the case told Forum 18.

The four Protestants each reluctantly paid the fines, despite believing that they had done nothing wrong. Had they refused to do so, they could have faced up to 15 days in prison.



The 77-year-old poet was questioned

An elderly Protestant Christian was held and questioned by police and a local state religious affairs official after trying to arrange through a local printing shop to print copies of a small book of his Christian poetry, fellow Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. The 77-year-old Begjan Shirmedov was held by Police in Dashoguz in northern Turkmenistan for six hours on 3 February before being freed.

Shirmedov, a member of a Protestant church in Dashoguz which has long been seeking state registration in vain, has been writing Christian poetry in Turkmen for some years, Protestants told Forum 18. Wanting to have some of them printed so that he could give copies away, he went to a local printing shop. Knowing the authorities' sensitivity over religious literature, he told the printing shop staff that the poetry was religious and asked if this would be a problem. They insisted it would not.

When Shirmedov returned to the printing shop on 3 February hoping to collect copies, an official of the Regional Gengesh, Hudainazar (last name unknown), was waiting for him. The official took Shirmedov to the Police's 6th Department, which is notionally responsible for counter-terrorism and organised crime work. There officers questioned Shirmedov for six hours and forced him to write a statement. He stressed in the statement that he had been careful to check with the printing house whether printing religious literature was permitted before placing his order.

Police told Shirmedov that he is not allowed to leave Dashoguz Region while the investigation continues. It remains unclear if any charges will be brought against him and what he is being investigated for.

Shirmedov's church, Path of Faith Baptist Church, again tried to find out in January why its registration application has languished unanswered for many years. About forty church members who travelled to the resort of Avaza on the Caspian Sea for an August 2011 holiday were detained, questioned and insulted by the police and the local imam because of their faith. They were forced to abandon their holiday (see F18News 5 September 2011

One of Shirmedov's sons, Merdan, who had married a US citizen, was barred from leaving Turkmenistan in January 2007 to be reunited with his wife and to be present for the birth of their first baby, who was born in May 2007. The exit ban was lifted in July 2007 (see F18News 31 August 2007



Unregistered religious activity is dangerous

The authorities routinely refuse state registration to religious communities they do not like, including independent mosques (especially Shia mosques), many Protestant churches and Jehovah's Witness communities. The Armenian Apostolic Church has been denied the possibility to resume its activity in the country.

Only 124 religious communities are known to have achieved registration, including 100 mosques, 13 Russian Orthodox churches and one each of Catholic, Hare Krishna and Baha'i communities. Ashgabad's Catholic community – the most recent to gain registration - finally gained legal status in March 2010 after 13 years of negotiation (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey at

Unregistered religious activity is – against the country's human rights obligations - banned under the Religion Law. Such religious activity is dangerous, because it is liable to raids and threats from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police and the ordinary police. The ordinary police's 6th Department, which is notionally responsible for counter-terrorism and organised crime work, is often very active against people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Raids such as the one on the 22 January are frequent, but victims of other raids are often afraid to have their cases publicised for fear of attracting further state harassment.

In October 2010, Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, who leads Light to the World Protestant Church in Mary east of Ashgabad, was given a four-year labour camp term with "forcible medical treatment" on charges his community insist have been falsified. He had tried in vain to register his church. In December 2010 he was transferred to the labour camp at Seydi in Lebap Region of eastern Turkmenistan, where eight Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are also imprisoned, and where there is evidence suggesting the use of psychotropic [mind-altering] drugs for torture (see F18News 22 December 2010



Heavy fines

After a 22 January police raid on a group of Protestants, who had gathered in a private flat in the eastern city of Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou), a city court has imposed heavy fines on at least five of those present, with threats to fine about a further dozen, Protestants who asked not to be identified for fear of state reprisals told Forum 18 News Service. One of those punished has already faced previous harassment for exercising the internationally-recognised right to freedom of religion or belief, and been threatened with imprisonment.

Some of the Protestants are known to have been fined under Article 205 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, which punishes "support for or participation in the activity of a religious group of religious organisation not officially registered in accordance with the legally established procedure". The article prescribes a fine of five to ten times the minimum monthly wage. Article 205's various parts punish "violation of the Law on Religious Organisations".

Local people told Forum 18 that the fines imposed on the Protestants represent between one and two months' average wages for those in an average state job in Turkmenabad. Most people in towns and especially villages away from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] are very poor. In villages most people live in a subsistence economy with no formal wages. "I don't know how these people are going to pay the fines," one source familiar with the case told Forum 18.

Forum 18 was unable to reach the Turkmenabad police. An official (who did not give his name) at the religious affairs office of Lebap Regional Hyakimlik (administration) told Forum 18 on 28 January that the imam was not in the office and only he could speak about cases. The official said he knew nothing of any raid on Protestants in the city. The telephone of Rustam Jumaniyazov, the official of Turkmenabad Hyakimlik whose duties include overseeing religious affairs, went unanswered each time Forum 18 called the same day.

Reached on 28 January, Gurbanberdy Nursakhatov, the Deputy Chair of the government's Gengeshi (Committee) for Religious Affairs in Ashgabad, put the phone down as soon as Forum 18 had introduced itself. Subsequent calls went unanswered.



Your faith is "against the state"

At mid-morning on 22 January, two police in uniform and three in plain clothes (thought to be from the Police 6th Department or the MSS secret police) suddenly arrived at the private flat in Turkmenabad where the Protestants had gathered, Protestants told Forum 18. Refusing to give their names or explain why they had come, the police immediately began to question the 20 or so people present as to why they had gathered. They examined discs they found and began to play them on the television, finding that they contained music and Indian films. They confiscated several discs.

Police then started seizing any notes and bags they could find, insisting that those present should explain what was there and if they refused to show them they would be taken to the police station. Police confiscated the identity documents of those present, as well as books belonging to the home owner and a camera. All of them were led out of the flat in full view of people in the yard "as if they were criminals".

Police took those present to Police Station No. 3, where they started to interrogate them individually. All were fingerprinted. Protestants told Forum 18 that both as they were being detained and at the police station, police were abusive and insulting to the mainly female detainees. During the interrogations, the police station apparently received a telephone call from Ashgabad. Officials from the Hyakimlik (city administration) arrived, as well as the city imam dressed in civilian clothes, who shouted at several of the Protestants.

The Protestants were allowed to leave the police station only late that evening after being ordered to return on 24 January. Two of the Protestants, who were from outside Turkmenabad, were ordered to stay with their friends in the flat and not to leave the city.

When all the Protestants returned to the police on 24 January, they were told the imam and the Hyakimlik officials had insisted that they all be charged with illegal religious activity, "preaching the Baptist faith".

The following day, two of the Protestants – both from outside Turkmenabad – were taken to the city court. There the judge questioned each "crudely" about which God they believed in, telling them that the imam had given an assessment that their faith was "against the state" and was banned. He fined them each 400 Manats (140 US Dollar). The two were taken directly to the bank and forced to pay the fines. Only then were their identity documents returned.

On 26 January, three more of the Protestants were fined under the same Article 205 Part 2. They were each fined 360 Manats (730 Norwegian Kroner, 90 Euros, or 125 US Dollars). They were told they would be arrested if they did not pay and that their identity documents would only be returned once they had done so. The rest of the Protestants were later threatened with similar fines. Written verdicts have not been issued.

Two of those present at the meeting were schoolchildren. Protestants told Forum 18 that they were not fined, but were made to stand before their whole schools and publicly insulted.


Pastor was given a four-year prison term 

In Turkmenistan, Protestant Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was today (21 October) given a four-year prison term on charges of swindling. His wife and church members insist the charges have been fabricated to punish him for his religious activity. Judge Agajan Akjaev of Mary Town Court in south-eastern Turkmenistan ruled that Nurliev will serve his sentence in the general regime labour camp in Seydi, his wife and lawyer both confirmed from the south-eastern town of Mary.

"The court also ruled that Ilmurad is a drug addict and ordered forced treatment for this in prison," Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18 News Service. "This is unjust and a slander." In reality, Pastor Nurliev is under treatment for diabetes, and his wife has been denied the opportunity to see him or give him his medicines since his arrest in August (see F18News 18 October 2010

"They didn't even allow him to kiss me"

Nurlieva said her husband – whom she had not seen since his arrest two months earlier – looked "very, very pale and thin". She said that during the trial he was held in a cage, which was surrounded by Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police officers, who prevented her from coming close to her husband. "They didn't even allow him to kiss me," she complained. She said she recognised one of the officers, who had raided their home a year or two ago.

"The whole thing was set up"

Other friends of Nurliev present at the trial told Forum 18 that "it was clear the whole thing was set up". One Protestant who was not present but who has known Nurliev for many years told Forum 18 of shock at the verdict. "He is not a drug addict or a swindler."

Pastor Nurliev's wife and church members vigorously refute the accusations, and strongly question the credibility of prosecution witnesses (see F18News 18 October 2010 15 church members who came to the Church's Sunday worship service on 29 August - two days after the arrest - signed an appeal to the Prosecutor's Office testifying to Pastor Nurliev's innocence (see F18News 30 August 2010 Police applied heavy pressure - including threats that her husband would be fired from his job - against another church member to falsely testify against Pastor Nurliev, but she refused to do this (see F18News 30 August 2010

Trial – with a witness who was in jail

The trial had been due to begin at 10 am, but did not start until 4.30 pm and finished in the evening, Nurlieva added. She complained that Prosecutor Ataev, who handled the case in court, produced only the two women who had written accusations against her husband that he had extracted money from them. She said there was no sign of the three men who, the prosecution claimed, had made similar allegations. She added that at the time one of the women claimed to have handed Nurliev some money, she was imprisoned on criminal charges. "So how could she have met my husband and given him money?" Maya Nurlieva asked.

She also complained that of the fifteen church members present in the courtroom who wanted to speak up on Nurliev's behalf, only three – including herself – were allowed to do so.

The official who answered the telephone at the Mary Prosecutor's Office on 21 October told Forum 18 that the working day was over and neither Prosecutor Ataev nor other staff were present. The telephone at Mary Court went unanswered when Forum 18 called in the evening in the wake of the trial.

Diplomat refused entry to court

Nurlieva said court officials had refused to let in a diplomat from the United States Embassy who had travelled from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] to observe the trial. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Centre in Ashgabad told Forum 18 on 19 October – soon after the date of the trial became known – that it had "sent a Note Verbale requesting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate the Centre's attendance at the court trial on 21 October in Mary". Forum 18 has been unable to find out if the request was granted.