TURKMENISTAN: Protestant Arrested as Nationwide Manhunt Continues

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 1 February 2001

Turkmenistan's secret police the KNB (former KGB) have arrested a Protestant Christian as the nationwide manhunt for a pastor and his colleagues continues. Sources in the Turkmen capital have told Keston News Service that the KNB arrested Nikolai Ognev in Ashgabad on 29 January and it is believed he is still being held. The KNB apparently believe he might have information about the whereabouts of a Protestant pastor, Shokhrat Piriyev, and two colleagues.

Piriyev was pastor of an ethnic Turkmen church in the town of Bezmein, near Ashgabad, which has suffered harassment from the KNB (see KNS 13 March 2000). He and two colleagues from the Bezmein church, Batyr Nurov and Umit Kochkarov, reportedly went into hiding with their families in the wake of KNB torture in November and the expulsion of the three and their families from their homes in December. The KNB has reportedly interrogated dozens of relatives, church members and associates in the course of their manhunt.

Another church member, Babamurat Goiymov, left for his home village near Turkmenabad (formerly Charjou) in the north east of the country after the eviction of his three colleagues. Around New Year he was summoned by police in Turkmenabad, where he was held for three days. It is not known how he was treated, but friends told Keston that in the wake of his detention he was `mentally confused'.

Piriyev, Nurov, Kochkarov and Goiymov ran into trouble in the wake of the discovery of `contraband' Christian videos in the Turkmen language in the wake of a traffic accident. The multiple copies of the documentary Jesus film were found by the KNB in a wrecked car Nurov had been driving on 21 November. The four men were subjected to brutal physical torture and threats during three days of intense KNB interrogation after the car accident. According to the US-based news service Compass Direct, one of the officers torturing the Christians reportedly told them at one point: `We do not need people like you in our country. You should be crushed and thrown out.' The men were beaten, given electric shocks and suffocated until they passed out.

However, after the four were freed the KNB decided to remove them and their families from Ashgabad in an apparent bid to destroy the Bezmein church. Piriyev, his wife and two children were evicted from their home in Bagyr village, nine miles from central Ashgabad in the Ahal region, on 9 December.

The KNB gave the family one day to pack up and vacate their home. They confiscated their personal deed of ownership and sealed the gate to prevent their return. The house was confiscated as government property under an official resolution issued by the district governor. Piriyev, who had bought the home last September and moved into it in late October, was ordered by the KNB to move back to his home town of Turkmenabad. Piriyev's wife was also forced to sign the deed making over the property to the government.

Nurov was thrown out of his Ashgabad home with one hour's notice on 19 December with his wife and their four-month-old son. The police stood by while he packed and removed his things and then they sealed the door. Nurov was told by officials that after his residence permit in Ashgabad was cancelled, his passport would be returned, and he would then be given copies of the formal confiscation documents.

The following day the KNB evicted Kochkarov, his wife and 15-month-old son. Although the flat was registered in his wife's name, officials never obtained her written agreement to surrender the house to the government. (END)