Turkmenistan: Four-Year Prison Sentence After “Secret Trial”

Two months after his arrest, Jehovah’s Witness Vladimir Nuryllayev has been given a four-year prison term at a “secret trial” in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on charges his community insists are fabricated. The court sentenced Nuryllayev on 18 January on charges of “spreading pornography”, a court official, who did not give her name, told Forum 18 News Service from Ashgabad on 24 January. “All this has been done because he is a Jehovah’s Witness,” fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. “Vladimir is a highly moral and deeply devout person and has nothing to do with pornography.” Community members complain that the trial was held in secret, preventing them from attending to support Nuryllayev. An unverified report indicates that a Muslim may have been imprisoned on similar charges for distributing religious discs.

Forum 18 knows of seven other men serving sentences as religious prisoners of conscience, six of them Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors and one Protestant pastor. Former prisoners have testified that they were beaten and maltreated while in labour camp.
Four-Year Sentence
Judge Iskander Bekturdiyev of Ashgabad’s Azatlyk District Court sentenced Nuryllayev on 18 January under Criminal Code Article 164, Part 2, the court official told Forum 18. This Article punishes “production or distribution of pornographic items” more than once or by a group of people. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.
The court official added that the written verdict has already been issued (something Forum 18 has been unable to verify) and that Nuryllayev has ten days in which to appeal if he chooses.
The court official could not say if Nuryllayev was present at the trial or not. He has been held at the detention centre at Yashlyk, 40 kms (25 miles) south-east of Ashgabad, since his arrest on 15 November 2011. Officials indicated after his trial that he is likely to remain there for a further two weeks or so before being transferred to a labour camp.
Religious Literature Confiscated, “Fine”, Beating And Arrest
The 39-year-old Nuryllayev is a building worker who earns his living by renovating private homes. He lives in a small Ashgabad flat with his mother and other relatives.
Nuryllayev’s prosecution began after a conflict with a member of his family who lives in the same flat. The family member who does not share his faith reportedly went to the police in late September 2011 to tell them he is a Jehovah’s Witness and that he kept some religious literature in a cupboard in the flat. The local police officer then arrived and, going straight to the cupboard, confiscated the literature.
On 18 October 2011, the officer ordered Nuryllayev to pay a “fine” of 375 Manats (773 Norwegian Kroner, 101 Euros or 132 US Dollars). Nuryllayev paid the fine the following day, hoping that this would end the case. Although the officer gave him a receipt, neither he nor the receipt indicated what the “fine” was for or what Article of the Code of Administrative Offences it was supposed to relate to.
Two officials who claimed to be from the hyakimlik (local administration) came to Nuryllayev’s flat in the evening of 20 October 2011, insisting that they needed to take away his notebook computer. Because they gave no reason or warrant for the seizure, Nuryllayev tried to cling on to it. However, after he wrote down the two officials’ names, they got angry and began to beat him, sources told Forum 18.
Nuryllayev’s mother, who is incapacitated after an accident, came into the room and saw the blood from her son’s injuries, triggering heart problems.
Police came to Nuryllayev’s home to arrest him on 15 November 2011, after which he was transferred to Yashlyk.
Fabricated Accusations?
On 16 November 2011, the day after Nuryllayev’s arrest, the criminal case under Article 164, Part 2 was opened against him by Azatlyk District Police’s Investigation Department with the approval of the District Prosecutor. The investigation was led by Investigator Rejepmurat Kurbanov. The accusation against him was formally lodged on 19 November 2011.
Jehovah’s Witnesses allege that the prosecution assertion that Nuryllayev gave a disc containing pornographic material to two named individuals on two separate occasions in Ashgabad – near a market in September 2011 and in a park in October 2011 – was a fabrication. “Vladimir had never seen the two people before,” Jehovah’s Witnesses told Forum 18. Moreover, they say the notebook computer was the only computer he had, and the disc drive on it had broken.
Investigator Kurbanov refused absolutely to discuss the way he had conducted the investigation or the Jehovah’s Witness claims that the accusation had been fabricated. “It’s good to hear from you,” he told Forum 18 from Ashgabad on 24 January. But he kept repeating “You must ask your questions of the court,” before putting the phone down.
The telephones of the Interior Ministry in Ashgabad were engaged or went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 24 January.
Muslim Sentenced On Similar Charges?
In early January, as Nuryllayev was awaiting trial, an anonymous message to Radio Liberty’s Turkmen Service – seen by Forum 18 – claimed that an unnamed Muslim man had been imprisoned “last year” merely for distributing religious audio and video discs. The message said that officials had used the accusation of distributing pornography to imprison the Muslim. The message asked that the news be brought to the attention of international human rights organisations.
It remains impossible to verify the truth of the message.

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