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TURKMENISTAN: “If you adopt their faith I’ll tear off your head”
ICC Note:
Police in Turkmenistan have taken to harassing the family and congregation of  Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev, who is a former religious prisoner of conscience.  One of the pastor’s relatives reported that a police officer threatened to “tear off” her head if she adopted “their faith.” In addition to interrogations, all the individuals were finger printed, required to bring copies of their picture, and had the entirety of their lives documented. While police say they are not harassing these believers, that is obviously not the case.
By Felix Corley
9/17/2013 Turkmenistan (Forum 18)- Police in the Turkmen city of Mary have resumed pressure on relatives, friends and members of the Protestant congregation led by former religious prisoner of conscience Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev. One police officer threatened to “tear off” the head of one of his relatives if she adopted “their faith”, Pastor Nurliev told Forum 18 News Service from Mary on 17 September. “We’ve got no peace,” his wife Maya added. Officials are interrogating all those they can find who signed the church’s rejected 2007 registration application.
Denied state registration, Pastor Nurliev’s community – Light to the World Church – has been unable to meet for worship in recent years “because of the circumstances”, he lamented to Forum 18.
The interrogations, threats and insults come as Turkmenistan has adopted a new Code of Administrative Offences which will come into force on 1 January 2014. The new Code prescribes new punishments for religious activity in defiance of Turkmenistan’s claims to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva (see below).
Numerous religious communities have been raided and individuals have faced fines under the current Code of Administrative Offences for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief. These include the leader of a Baptist children’s summer camp in Mary raided in late June (see F18News 29 August 2013
New criminal case?
The most recent trouble for Pastor Nurliev, his relatives and church members began on Sunday 15 September, he told Forum 18. “Yesterday [16 September] I was summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department, where I was questioned by officer Rahman Rahmanov.”
Many of his relatives, his wife’s relatives, and all those they could find of the dozen or so church members who signed the 2007 registration application have been summoned, had their fingerprints and photos taken, been forced to write statements and been subjected to threats and insults, he said. “They told me it was because of people like us that Syria is facing conflict.”
Pastor Nurliev said police even wanted to know about people on the registration application who had died or moved away or no longer had contact with the church.
Maya Nurlieva, the pastor’s wife, was summoned to the local police station on 16 September, where Captain Sapar Atabayev interrogated her for three hours. “He threatened, insulted and shouted at me for all that time,” she told Forum 18. She had to provide a written account of her life, including information on when she became a Christian.
Police took a copy of her identity document and her fingerprints and told her she was being added to the list of those on police records. She was told to bring a set of photos, including two portrait-size pictures (12 by 9 centimetres). She was also required to give information about all her relatives, including her mother who is in her nineties.
Maya Nurlieva told the police she would not come to report every Saturday as they were insisting she should. “I said that without a written summons I wouldn’t come,” she told Forum 18.
Pastor Nurliev said police had asked him whether relatives of his who had moved to Belarus had left because they were criminals.
“No concrete accusations have been laid against me,” Pastor Nurliev told Forum 18, “and police wouldn’t say why they are doing all this. I can only guess a new criminal case has been opened against me.” He said one officer told him the town police had received an instruction from the Interior Ministry in the capital Ashgabad.
“What do you mean, a criminal case?”
The officer who answered the phone on 17 September at the Criminal Investigation Department at Mary police refused to say if he was Officer Rahmanov or not, or Department head Rustam (last name unknown). Asked why Pastor Nurliev and his associates are being interrogated and threatened, the officer responded: “Who is threatening him? We simply need to know more about him.” Asked why, the officer added: “Because he’s been imprisoned before.”
Asked if Pastor Nurliev is facing a new criminal case, the officer responded: “What do you mean a criminal case?” Asked what he has done wrong, he claimed: “He’s not doing anything, he’s not breaking the law, not now at least.” Told that Forum 18’s readers would want to know from him why Pastor Nurliev and so many others were being interrogated, the officer responded: “Are you threatening me?” He then put the phone down.

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