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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 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1499).

"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 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1499). 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 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1481). 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 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1481).

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.

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