Protestant pastor Ilmurad Nurliev was released from prison on Feb. 18 as part of the president’s “Flag Day” amnesty, in which about 230 prisoners were freed. Pastor Nurliev’s wife, Maya, and other family members greeted him as he arrived on a train from the Seydi labor camp with other pardoned prisoners.
“His release was so unexpected we forgot to get flowers,” she said. “It is such a joy I can’t tell you. Our sincere thanks and blessings to you and all who worked for his release.” The pastor learned of his amnesty the previous evening, and his family discovered it when they saw a list of those to be released posted on the Internet.
The 46-year-old Nurliev, who has a daughter and two grandchildren, leads Light to the World Protestant Church in Mary, Turkmenistan. He was barred from leaving Turkmenistan in 2007, and his church has been denied state registration. Police raided his home in February 2009, confiscating 225 Christian cassettes and DVDs.
In August 2010, Pastor Nurliev was arrested, charged with swindling and sentenced to four years in labor camp. His congregation said the charges were fabricated in order to punish him for his religious activity.
Pastor Nurliev told Forum 18 that conditions in labor camp were “not too bad.” He said apart from the initial 10 days he spent in an isolation cell after his arrival in the camp, he did not spend further time in isolation and had not been beaten. The pastor, who is diabetic, also said prison officials gave him the medicines his wife brought.
However, he was not allowed to have a Bible during his 18-month imprisonment. “When I saw that the Muslim imams in Seydi were allowed to have copies of the Quran, I went to the head of the labor camp,” he said. “But he told me I couldn’t have a Bible. He gave no reason.”
The pastor was also denied the many letters, cards and photos sent to him from around the world. “I was able to see letters and cards from Canada, Britain and elsewhere that had come in for me,” he said. “But although I could have a quick look at some of them, they wouldn’t give them to me.” He thanked those who had written to him. “They showed me I was not forgotten.”
Pastor Nurliev must report to the police every Saturday evening. He does not know if there are other conditions on his release, and he’s unsure if he will be allowed to travel out of the country.
“Church members have been coming to the house to celebrate my release with me,” Pastor Nurliev said. “I want to thank … everyone who supported me and helped [in] my release.”
Source: Forum 18 News Service, Voice of the Martyrs