|Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev suffered for 18 months
in a labour camp
A Christian children’s camp on church premises in the town of Mary in Turkmenistan was raided in the summer of 2013. The police subjected the youngsters to questioning for three hours; then they called the parents and demanded that they collect their children immediately. Church leaders were subsequently fined for holding an unregistered church meeting.
A strict Religion Law passed in 2003 requires all religious groups in Turkmenistan to register with the authorities. Criteria for registration are intrusive and the process is cumbersome, but unregistered religious activity is prohibited by law and can be punished by imprisonment and large fines. Unregistered groups are subject to raids and other forms of harassment, and they are not allowed to rent, buy or build places of worship. Pastors and members have sometimes been abused or beaten by the authorities.
Registered churches have to accept state oversight of all their activities and may face interference with their leadership and organisation. They must have government permission for their buildings and cannot meet for worship in private homes. They also have to obtain permission from local authorities for every activity, and this is sometimes denied. No private religious education is allowed, and there are no training facilities for church leaders. Christian literature may not be published in the country, and its importing is severely restricted by censorship regulations.
Turkmenistan is mainly Muslim (95%), and ethnic Turkmen Christian converts from Islam are treated with suspicion and ostracised to pressure them to return. The previous head of state, Saparmurat Niyazov, initiated a presidential personality cult with religious overtones that dominated public life, and although this has diminished somewhat since his death in 2006, it remains pervasive under his successor.