KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 2, Article 24, 22 February 2000
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TURKMEN AUTHORITIES BRING CASE AGAINST MUSLIM CLERIC

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

After several weeks of newspaper attacks, the Turkmen authorities have
arrested a leading mullah and started building a criminal case against him on
charges of swindling. HOJA AHMED ORAZGYLYCH - who has contributed
to the religious programming of the Turkmen Service of the US-funded radio
station Radio Liberty - is believed to be in prison in Tejen, a town some 210
kilometres from Ashgabad, although Turkmenistan's chief mufti told Keston
News Service he did not know where the mullah is being held. `According to
our sources the mullah is being held in Tejen prison,' RFE/RL's Turkmen
Service told Keston. `The Tejen prison is feared for its harsh conditions.
Generally, only criminals who have committed murder or other serious crimes
are held there.'

Mullah Orazgylych is 72 and studied theology at the Mir Arab medressah in
the Uzbek city of Samarkand. He was arrested on 7 February by law
enforcement officers `as he was receiving a large quantity of American dollars
from citizens by duplicitous means', the Russian-language newspaper Neitralny
Turkmenistan reported on 12 February. The paper, which is government-
controlled, added that a criminal case had been instituted against him under
Article 228 part 3 of the Criminal Code, which deals with `swindling'. It
reported further that on 10 February the investigators at the General Procuracy
had obtained from the mullah a hand-written confession admitting that `on the
basis of my prayers and talismans I allowed myself to commit a great sin'.
According to the paper the mullah asked both Allah and the President of
Turkmenistan, SAPARMURAT NIYAZOV, to forgive him. The paper
reported that `an investigation of this case is now underway'.

The 12 February article (reprinting an article published earlier in the Turkmen-
language paper Adalat) was a direct attack on the mullah and his alleged
activity, with strong echoes of Soviet-era press attacks on dissidents who were
about to be put on trial. The article blamed Mullah Orazgylych for the death of
his son SEYDULLA in 1990, allegedly because of his addiction to drugs. The
paper also recounted that two childless women, one from Bakharden region and
the other from Ashgabad, had allegedly come to him to seek advice on their
infertility. The article alleged that the mullah had proposed that the women
sleep with him as the only way of conceiving a child.

The article claimed that the mullah constantly wrote to government agencies to
complain that he had not been given any awards and also wrote complaints to
the chairman of the government's Council for Religious Affairs,
YAGSHIMURAD AGAMURADOV, the chief mufti of Turkmenistan (who is
also a deputy chairman of the Council) NASRULLA IBN IBADULLAH, and
other leading officials, claiming that they were jealous of him.

The paper also complained that Mullah Orazgylych has been illegally building
a mosque in Ashgabad and `does not at all think about registering it with the
Ministry of Justice according to the legal procedure'. The mullah has been
warned more than once to abide by the law, the paper adds, but has ignored
these warnings.

The press attacks have been joined by President Niyazov. He briefly mentioned
Orazgylych's case in his 14 February address to the Turkmen parliament,
questioning the clergyman's religious authority and his interpretation of the
Koran. Niyazov was also quoted on television the same week declaring: `I
liked the television show yesterday when they criticised Hoja Ahmed
Orazgylych. Let the people believe that he is not an Ahun [a Muslim spiritual
leader]. When people call someone Ahun everyone considers him to be so.
Where is the proof? He does not know anything that would make him an
Ahun.'

None of the press or television attacks on Mullah Orazgylych have mentioned
his contributions to RFE/RL Turkmen Service's religious programming, but his
vigorous opposition to President Niyazov's instructions of how to celebrate
New Year with a Christmas tree may have been a factor in the case against
him. `Children of this mainly Muslim country were asked to circle the
Christmas tree and chant the prayer to President Niyazov which appears on the
front page of every newspaper,' the Turkmen Service reported. `Orazgylych
said it is the right of anyone to celebrate the New Year in whatever fashion
they saw fit. But when RFE/RL's Turkmen Service asked him about the
Christmas tree Orazgylych gave a very passionate response.' The mullah told
them: `To speak about the relationship of Islam to the Christmas tree! Islamic
writing comes to us from above over the course of 23 years (Mohammed was
40 when he received his first revelation, he died when he was 63). Through the
Prophet the laws come to the people. I have been studying Islam for 24 years
and from the first to the last writings I have never come across anything in the
Koran about meeting the New Year with a Christmas tree. There is nothing
about the New Year and a Christmas tree. Just the opposite, a Muslim should
not act like a Christian.'

In a telephone interview with Keston from the Council for Religious Affairs in
Ashgabad on 22 February, Chief Mufti Ibadullah declared that all the
allegations against Mullah Orazgylych published in the newspaper and aired on
television were true. `The whole case has been given in the article,' he told
Keston. `As a religious figure he did very bad things. There were many others
things as well that were not mentioned in the article.' He told Keston that
Mullah Orazgylych has not yet been put on trial as the investigation of his case
is continuing. `I don't know when the trial will take place,' he declared, `and I
don't know where he is being held.'

Contacted by telephone on 22 February, officials at the General Procuracy in
Ashgabad declined to discuss Mullah Orazgylych's case or to confirm where he
is being held. (END)

All Keston News Service material is protected by copyright:
(c) Keston Institute 2000