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Prayer is not for tourists: Two Americans fined for “religious contacts”

By Roman Lunkin

 

Religiia i Pravo (15.09.2016) – http://bit.ly/2cnV0PV – On 10 September 2016, two American citizens, Alexandra Whitney and David Kozan, along with their minor daughter, Catherine, were arrested in Kaluga. The result of a five-hour interrogation was a police report according to which Whitney and Kozan were fined 3,000 rubles each, without deportation from Russia, for administrative violation of law.

The Americans were traveling as tourists, but they decided to worship a bit, as they are protestant Pentecostals and friends of the Kaluga “Word of Life” church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) and its leader, Bishop Albert Ratkin. Local authorities have been trying for more than ten years now to take away from this church the building of the church of Christ the Savior on Nebesnaia [Heavenly] Street.

On 9 to 11 September 2016, a conference was held in the house of worship of this church (the church of Christ the Savior of Kaluga), which was devoted to the 80th anniversary of the Pentecostal church in Kaluga. Believers reckon that their congregation, and the Pentecostal movement in Kaluga as a whole, were established in 1936 by one of the famous leaders of the protestant movement in Russia, Ivan Voronaev, who was in exile here.

The American citizens Whitney and Kozan greeted their fellow believers and watched a film and historical drama about the life and ministry of Ivan Voronaev. The worship service also was attended by Sergei Riakhovsky, the bishop of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals) and member of the Public Chamber of the RF.

Without a doubt, the foreign guests were not simply Americans who dropped in on the church. David Kozan is an engineer who in the 1990s served four years as a missionary in Russia. Alexandra Whitney is a high school teacher. However the fact that they had preached in Russia does not make them flawed or suspicious people.

The bishop of the Kaluga church of Christ the Savior, Albert Ratkin, said that around 22.00 [10:00 p.m] on 10 September 2016, the Americans were met outside the gates of the house of worship by several security officers and agents of the FSB. District Police Major Sergei Dokukov confiscated the passports of the American citizens and gave them back only after they threatened to summon the consul. Representatives of the church note that not only the officer but also the police translator identified themselves as law enforcement agents: “David Kozan tried to make a joke that he had already seen such night-time interrogations and such treatment of people in a movie. The translator rendered this as if he had asked to be shown a movie.”

At 2:00 a.m. police Lieutenant Vladimir Grenkov composed a statement about administrative violation of the laws on entry into the country and “establishment of religious contacts.” In it he noted that these “religious contacts” were conducted by the Americans on 10 September from 16.00 to 21.00, although they had arrived on a tourist visa. The lieutenant declared that he had a secret recording of the “religious contacts” by the American citizens from a private informant, whom he did not allow the accused to meet.

As Vladimir Riakhovsky, an attorney and member of the presidential Council on Human Rights of the RF, notes, American citizens have the full right of participation in worship services of the evangelical church in Kaluga. Freedom of confession of one’s faith is guaranteed on the territory of Russia by the constitution of the RF to all, both Russian citizens and foreigners. Participation in a worship service, and even greetings delivered in the church, do not in any way violate the visa system, the rules of visiting on a tourist visa. Otherwise, Vladimir Riakhovsky says, it turns out that foreigners coming to Russia are not permitted to enter Russian churches and worship. And foreign citizens who have received a humanitarian visa and permission for missionary activity, are not permitted to get on a tourist bus and engage in tourism. By such logic it turns out that people coming, for example, on a business visa are not permitted to visit tourist attractions and to worship. However this is an absurd conclusion that contradicts the spirit and letter of the Russian constitution and the law on freedom of conscience.

Due to the amendment about missionary activity within the context of the Yarovaya Package, a special ideology of the new legislation has begun to be formulated. First of all, any preaching, prayer, or conversation about God have fallen under suspicion that has always been noted by rights advocates as the natural consequence of a system of fines for preaching. As a result, the law has been applied in practice extremely broadly and has, in fact, crossed the boundaries of the Yarovaya Package. For reasons known only to law enforcement agencies, any religious activity of foreign citizens has come to be considered actually illegal. A characteristic example: on 14 September, a Kemerovo court fined a Ukrainian citizen 30 thousand rubles, for speaking at a meeting of a Pentecostal church. While she was specifically followed and her sermon was recorded on video, they could arrest her only at a traffic checkpoint on the way to the airport.

Informants, secret recordings, and chases have appeared in religious life. One would like to know why it is Christian preaching that provokes such attempts to employ all these espionage skills.

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