Pastor Ilmurad before his imprisonment in 2010
Ilmurad Nurliev, pastor of the Svet Miru (Light to the World) church in the Turkmenistan town of Mary, was arrested on August 27 of 2010. Falsely accused of swindling two women and a man, he was sentenced to four years in prison. It is unclear what is really behind the charges, but Pastor Ilmurad surmises he was singled out to “punish him for his religious activity.”
Pastor Ilmurad’s trial took place on Thursday, October 21, during which two of the church members and Ilmurad’s wife Maya were allowed to speak on his behalf. Despite their efforts the judge convicted Ilmurad and sentenced him to four years in prison which he has to serve in the general regime labor camp in Seydi. This sentence was a triple blow to Ilmurad as Seydi is a labor camp where conditions are notoriously bad; the labor camp is located far from his home town of Mary, making it very difficult for his wife to visit; and it meant that he would receive no further treatment for his diabetes.
There are rays of light in the darkness of his present situation as his wife Maya can now visit him (at certain times) and supply him with food and medicine. He was happy to hear that brothers and sisters worldwide are praying for him. Without these prayers, he said he “could not even survive there.”
Since Ilmurad’s arrest his wife Maya has been under constant MSS secret police surveillance. When she asked for a written copy of the verdict, this was not given. Maya then appealed to the Regional Prosecutor, but they said they would only give the verdict to her husband, not to his lawyer or to Maya. Maya organized an appeal to the Prosecutor’s Office testifying to Pastor Nurliev’s innocence. She also appealed for international observers, including from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), to attend any future trial of her husband. In addition police have again been pressuring members of Ilmurad’s church, asking them if his wife Maya is gathering them for worship services or meetings. The church has had to find ways to meet more cautiously and less officially.
There have been a number of prisoner amnesties since October 2010 on the occasions of national holidays as well as during the Muslim “night of power” during Ramadan. Though more than 3,800 prisoners have been freed, Pastor Ilmurad has not been among them. With each group of amnesties announced, Maya’s hopes have been raised, only to be crushed. This has been increasingly difficult for her, but on December 12 it is anticipated that the government will, as it usually does at this time, grant amnesty to another group of prisoners.
You can help both Ilmurad and Maya by sending them cheerful cards. Be sure not to mention Open Doors and please avoid derogatory political references. Your brief, encouraging messages, especially ones that include one or two Bible verses will be a blessing. Let them know you are praying for them.
Send cards to Open Doors USA, PO Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92705-5840, addressing the outside envelope only.
Father, during this bleak time for Pastor Ilmurad and his wife Maya, we thank You that You are their sure presence and hope. We pray earnestly for him to receive amnesty on December 12. While he is at the Seydi Labor Camp, we pray that You will sustain him and give him opportunities to minister to inmates and even to the prison guards. We pray for the miracle of his complete healing. Please encourage Maya and provide for her support, as she has now lost her job. Protect her and the church members as they continue to worship You. May these dark days give way to hope. In the name of Jesus, our true hope, Amen.