This was revealed by the pastor’s wife Maya and other church members. Turkmenistan is located in Central Asia, bordering the Caspian Sea, between Iran and Kazakhstan
According to a story by Felix Corley writing for the Forum 18 News Service, investigators have accused him of bilking money from two women who attended church meetings, and from a man he had never heard of before. He faces up to five years imprisonment if convicted. Church members refute the accusations.
Another church member has been summoned and threatened that if she does not testify against Nurliev, her husband will be fired from his job in the military.
“They have no conscience, no limits,” Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18 of the officials who have arrested her husband. “What they’ve done is not right.”
Forum 18 said Nurliev has been accused under Article 228, Part 2 of the Criminal Code, which punishes swindling, his lawyer told Forum 18.
Those found guilty face punishment of between one and five years imprisonment and possible confiscation of property. Investigators allege that Nurliev swindled the three out of 7,000,000 Manats (or 2,456,140 US Dollars), which they say represents large-scale swindling.
Forum 18 said the lawyer added that investigators have up to two months to prepare a case for trial. Nurliev is currently being held in the town police investigation cells.
No official response
Forum 18 has been unable to discuss the accusations with investigator Durdimurad Gazakov, who is leading the case for the Mary town police. The man who answered his telephone on Aug. 30 hung up as soon as Forum 18 asked for him. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
Forum 18 reached town prosecutor Razmurad Durdiev the same day, but he declined to answer any questions and also hung up the phone.
The man who answered the telephone of Nurmukhamed Gurbanov, Deputy Chair of the Government’s Council for Religious Affairs in the capital Ashgabad also hung up on Forum 18. Subsequent calls went unanswered.
Calls by Forum 18 to the Mary Region chief imam, who also heads the Mary Regional Gengeshi, went unanswered on Aug. 30.
Forum 18 said Nurliev’s congregation, Peace to the World Pentecostal church, has faced intermittent harassment in recent years.
Nurliev was fined for his religious activity in 2008. The church applied for state registration in 2007, but officials repeatedly asked for “corrections” to be made to the church’s application and since the beginning of 2010 no progress on processing the application appears to have been made.
Forum 18 said since Oct. 2007, Nurliev has been on the government’s secret exit blacklist maintained by the country’s Migration Service on behalf of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of State Security (MSS) secret police.
The latest trouble for Nurliev came with his sudden arrest on the morning of Aug. 27.
“I was out at work when the police arrested my husband, and the first I knew was when he was allowed to call me from the investigator’s office,” Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18.
She said police have refused to allow her to meet her husband. Police also refused to give her any document certifying his arrest or outlining the reasons for it.
She added that they took his certificate in preaching he received at a Ukrainian Christian college in March 2006, refusing to allow her to take it back and give them a photocopy. He also had 150 US Dollars in his pocket when he was arrested which they have also refused to give back.
“All they gave back to me were the keys to our (apartment),” Forum 18 reported she said.
Maya Nurlieva said that police and the investigator have refused to discuss her husband’s case with her, only directly with the lawyer.
Forum 18 said Nurliev is accused of swindling the money from two women who occasionally attended a women’s group of his church, as well as from one man, Maya Nurlieva explained. The three wrote statements to the police denouncing Nurliev, but she insists neither of the women ever gave money to the church or to her husband.
“They now regret having written these accusations, but they did so under police pressure and it is now too late.” She said neither she nor her husband knew the man who had accused him.
Forum 18 said one of the women attended three or four meetings in 2009, some of them with her mother. Both were subsequently imprisoned for causing a disturbance where they lived, but were freed from prison later that year in a prisoner amnesty. The young woman came to a few more meetings in 2010 after her release, accompanied by another young woman.
Maya Nurlieva claimed that police or the MSS secret police put pressure on the two younger women to write the complaints as a basis to arrest her husband.
Human rights defenders have in other cases told Forum 18 that those who have been imprisoned are particularly vulnerable to pressure from the authorities to sign accusations prepared by officers.
Nurliev’s lawyer said that as the case rests on the three accusations, it is only if they renounce their accusations that the case can stop. “None of them has done so,” she told Forum 18.
“There are many people who could testify with the truth – that my husband did not extort money from anyone,” Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18. “He also has a secular job and so do I – our family does not live off extorted money.”
She said that 15 church members who came to their Sunday service on Aug. 29 signed an appeal to the Prosecutor’s Office testifying to Nurliev’s innocence.
Threats to church member
Another church member, Kristina Petrova, was summoned by the police on the afternoon of Aug. 29, Maya Nurlieva told Forum 18. Officers pressured her to testify against the pastor, but she refused.
“They shouted at her and threatened her very crudely,” Nurlieva told Forum 18. “She’s just a young woman.”
When Petrova refused to testify against Nurliev, she was then threatened that her husband would be fired from his job in the military. She told the police that he is not a church member and has nothing to do with the case. “If they (fire) her husband, the family will have nothing to eat,” Nurlieva told Forum 18.
For more background information see Forum 18’s religious freedom survey of Turkmenistan at www.forum18.org/