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Turkmen police torture Christians, extort ‘gifts’

ASHGABAD, Turkmenistan (BP)–Four Christians suffered beatings, electric shocks and other torture at the hands of police officials in Turkmenistan in late November.

Turkmen political police officers in Ashgabad arrested Batir Nurov, Babamurat Gaebov and Shokhrat Piriyev Nov. 22 after officers found their car filled with Christian videos. The men had abandoned the car the previous evening when it had blown out two tires and flipped.

One other Christian injured in the accident, Umit Koshkarov, was arrested once he returned home from the hospital.

For three days the men were interrogated and tortured. One source said there were “repeated sessions of beatings, electric shock and suffocation to the point of blacking out.” Each night the men were allowed to return home.

Finally a judge excused the men from prison terms but levied oppressive fines, which the men were forced to sign over as “voluntary” gifts to the president of Turkmenistan. The men also had to sign papers promising to leave Ashgabad.

Two weeks later, police evicted Piriyev, his wife and their two children from their home and ordered him to move back to his hometown of Turkmenabad.

“They forced me to write the letter [to] give my house to the property of the government,” Piriyev told the Compass Direct news service.

Nurov and Koshkarov are under house arrest since the local procurator confiscated the men’s identity papers, which all Turkmen are required to carry on their persons.

The Christians were released from police headquarters but with threats of “harsher treatment in the future,” said one source, whose identity was withheld for fear of reprisals. As the men left, they told their interrogators that “they loved them,” the source said.

Many Christians were surprised at the government’s reaction to the men’s possession of the “Jesus” videos.

“The reason for my surprise is the government was showing the ‘Jesus’ video on national state-controlled television in 1997 and 1998,” one Christian said. “[The] entire country could have a copy of this video had they chosen to simply record it off of the television one of the many times it was shown.”

Piriyev, 27, is pastor of the house church of which all the men are members. Police officers raided the church earlier this year because of its unregistered status. Piriyev previously endured personal persecution, as well.

The police temporarily seized his car and residency permit when officers raided the church. An Ashgabad newspaper also labeled him a “criminal to be avoided.”

Nurov, described as a “modern-day Barnabas,” is Piriyev’s brother-in-law. While officers were torturing Nurov, other policemen were interrogating his wife.

“It was pretty clear that they were just trying to make her afraid, saying things like, ‘We’re beating up your husband now,'” one source said.

Less than a week after being released, the four Christians were summoned again and subjected to more interrogations and intimidation.

“We have been promised more of the same,” said one of the men. “We do not know how long we can withstand such treatment.”

The government’s religious policy criminalizes all unregistered religious groups, but the only churches allowed to register are the Russian Orthodox Church and the government-sanctioned Sunni Islam. Turkmenistan has the most repressive religious policy of any Central Asian republic, according to Compass Direct.

All foreign Christians known to be involved in religious activities have been expelled from the country during the last two years. A Protestant church and two Hare Krishna temples have been destroyed. Police continue to raid Baptist, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist and Baha’i congregations.

“The point is this government is afraid of change,” one Christian said. “It believes it is firmly in control at this time — and it is — and it will do whatever is necessary to maintain that control.”

Christian workers familiar with Turkmenistan asked Christians to pray that copies of the Bible will make it into Turkmenistan and that local church leaders will be able to meet for training, despite the dangers.

They also asked believers to pray that those who are being persecuted for their faith will be encouraged, and that the world will take notice of their plight.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo Title: TURKMENISTAN FLAG.

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  • Brittany Jarvis