Grigory Pasko: A Pastor Behind Bars

In Russia they’re accusing an American clergyman of arms smuggling By Grigory Pasko, journalist In Moscow, not far from the pretentiously ostentatious building of the state corporation «Rosatom», is found the plain and inconspicuous construction in which the «Slavic legal center» has made its home. At the entrance, on the security guard’s desk, I see a pile of magazines entitled «Religion and law». I find out that these magazines are published by the center. Later, it becomes clear that the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Anatoly Pchelintsev, and I know each other, having met once previously. Vladimir Ryakhovskiy, the managing director of the center, a former judge, now a lawyer, met me in his office. First we talked about the center: what it does, what cases the lawyers are working on, and so forth. It turned out that Ryakhovskiy and Pchelintsev were the lawyers in the famous case of the religious organization «Salvation Army» which was lost by Russia in the International Court of Human Rights (the essence of the case was that the Russian authorities had tried to prohibit the activities of this religious organization on the territory of the RF on the grounds that it could not call itself an “army”. An army, they had decided in Russia, could be only aviational, marine, or land).

The essence of the case Vladimir Ryakhovskiy is working on right now is as follows: Phillip Houston Miles, a pastor from South Carolina who was part of a group of American missionaries, flew into the Moscow airport Sheremetyevo-2 to fly on further to Perm. There, he’s got a friend, also a pastor, who is called Eduard and who, like Phillip, is an inveterate hunter.On the eve of Miles’s flight out from the USA, Eduard reported to him that he had acquired a hunting carbine. True, things were a bit tight in Russia with bullets for it.Apparently, pastor Miles decided to make a present for his friend in faraway Russia. He, as I imagine this is done in America, went to the nearest store and bought a box of American bullets there for 25 dollars. By American laws, there’s nothing bad in this. And by American standards, this is an ordinary thing: to buy bullets.pastor022508.JPGPastor Philip Miles (at left) and friend on the hunt (Photo from Miles’s archive)No doubt the staff at the airport in the USA knew about this ordinary thing too. At any rate, they didn’t show any interest whatsoever in pastor Miles’s bullets.But the Russian customs officers were very interested. They proposed to Miles – the only one of the group of missionaries – to scan his baggage. Seeing a suspicious-looking box, they asked the pastor what it was. The pastor honestly replied: these are bullets, which I’m taking to my friend in Perm.They drew up a report, confiscated the bullets, and allowed the pastor to fly on to Perm. Upon returning from Perm, on 3 February of this year, they detained the pastor right at Sheremetyevo, presenting him with a charge of having committed a crime under Article 222 – “unlawful acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transport or bearing of weaponry, component parts thereof, munitions, explosive substances and explosive devices”. It is not by accident that I have cited the name of the Article. The fact is that in the USA, all this – acquisition, storage, sale, transport, and so on – is not a violation of the law.In Russia it is. Furthermore. In Russia, they very much love the saying: ignorance of the law does not release from liability (as if though knowledge of the law does…).In short, they arrested the pastor and sent him off to investigative isolator No. 5 of the city of Moscow. Where the 68-year-old is sitting to this day.So that is the essence of the case.I listened to lawyer Ryakhovskiy and waited intently for additional information to that which had been said. “It can’t be”, thought I, “that everything’s so simple”. The fact is that based on my own experience in dealing with the inhabitants of Russia’s jails, I know that Article 222 is not considered a particularly serious crime. The term of punishment there is from two to four years. That is, there was no need to apply a measure of restraint – confinement under guard [during the pre-trial investigative period—Trans.]. Unless, of course, the Russian investigators had far-reaching plans.It turns out they did have such plans.Subsequently, lawyer Ryakhovskiy reported the following.“I understood that there was no reason to have arrested the pastor. After all, in his actions – and this is evident – there was no criminal intent. Furthermore, the pastor from Perm provided to our disposal permission to the right to the use of his winchester – the bullets that pastor Miles was bringing fit it specifically. The identity of pastor Miles also did not raise questions: he was coming to Russia with missionary objectives for the 12th time already.However, soon after, yet another Article was added to 222: Article 188 – contraband [Russian for “smuggling” or “illegal trafficking”—Trans.]. Now this is considered a “serious” crime. Under it, the term of punishment is up to seven years.The seriousness of an Article is Russia is considered substantial grounds for holding the accused under guard. Plus add to this that Miles is not a citizen of the RF, he does not have a permanent place of residence in the RF, and he, in the opinion of the investigation, could abscond from the court [Russian for “jump bail”—Trans.].Lawyer Anatoly Pchelintsev came in and joined the conversation. He recalled an incident from his practice.“Several years ago, we were defending a certain Okhotin, a citizen of the USA. He’s an emigrant, a Baptist. He was bringing money, 48 thousand dollars, in order to donate it for children’s homes [orphanages—Trans.] in Russia. There was a long line in the red corridor [“Items To Declare” at customs—Trans.] of the airport. A customs officer came up and advised him to go through the green corridor. It needs to be said that Okhotin had already filled in a declaration that he had a large sum of money with him. But he obeyed the customs officer and went through the green corridor. He had just gotten to the exit when they immediately arrested him. Okhotin was sentenced by a Russian court to deprivation of liberty for a term of one year, suspended. In so doing, they did not return the money either to Okhotin himself, or to the children’s homes, to which it was being taken.”Ryakhovskiy continued.“These cases differ in that there, there was money, while here, there are bullets. But in both this instance and that one, there is no intent to commit unlawful acts. And there is no cause to speak about the public danger of the criminal act.”While the lawyers discussed their legal fine points, I was thinking about the more prosaic aspects of Russian life. Come on, do you really expect me to believe that the procuracy investigator, when tacking on Article 188 to the already-existent Article 222, honestly didn’t understand that the “contraband” charge was clearly excessive? Of course he understood. Because there was no intentional premeditated concealment of the bullets from customs control (they weren’t under something that would have screened them or hidden inside something); there was no fact of misleading declaration of goods; there were no counterfeit documents used… That is, many of those items that form the body of a crime under Article 188 were clearly not evident here.And now let’s take a look at the case from the other side – from the point of view of an ordinary Russian investigator of the times of comrade Putin. The investigator, just like any citizen of the RF, lives in conditions of a permanent state hatred towards the USA. That means, he thinks, they’re not likely going to chew him out for charging a citizen of the USA. Besides, contraband – that’s already a serious crime, and to have an exposed crime under such an Article on your resume – that’s a clear path to praise from the bosses or even a promotion. All the more so given that the mere fact of a conviction of a person under this Article will embellish the statistical reporting of the investigative department.And one can imagine the situation in which this man of the cloth will find himself. All his life he has been a pastor. And a hunter. It’s his 12th time coming to Russia. Of course he did a stupid thing in never having bothered to learn Russian laws – even if they seem a bit strange – in all these years. But the drama of the situation isn’t in the fact that a person in his seventh decade is going to experience all the charms of a Russian investigative isolator, but in the fact that he could very likely get to learn all the wonders of the Russian GULag as well. Our Russian “most humane court in the world” could simply throw the pastor three, and even five, years in a colony.Ryakhovskiy recalls.“In the time when I worked as a judge, it would happen that they would release people right in the courtroom. Although on the whole, cases were well prepared, with a strong evidentiary foundation. And from recent lawyer’s practice I recall the following case. They had set a girl up with narcotics – an acquaintance, without giving her warning, asked her to pass a package on to another person. The moment she took it, out of nowhere there appeared people in civilian attire [“people in civilian attire” is Russian for “undercover officers” or, more often, KGB/FSB—Trans.] and arrested her.“In court everything was understandable to everybody that the girl had been sucked into this affair without criminal intent on her part. This was clear even to the judge. But the girl didn’t get a suspended term, but a real one – two years of deprivation of liberty. After the verdict I asked the judge how could this be, you all could see for yourselves that she had been set up. The judge replied: such is the judicial practice with respect to these cases.“And here too it may happen that it is not the spirit of the law that prevails, but that notorious ‘judicial practice’. If the guy’s already sitting [behind bars—Trans.], then you’ve got to give him a real term, too.”Ryahov-1022508.JPGLawyer Vladimir Ryakhovskiy (Photo by Grigory Pasko)It’s hard not to agree with lawyer Ryakhovskiy. The realities of recent, Putinite times are such that Russian courts have become not simply tough, but downright cruel. Thousands of innocent people are sitting in Russian jails. National-bolsheviks, opposition journalists, faux spies… But here, we’ve even got a formal element of a crime, and a person who is “not ours”… [ne nash: this is the same word as Nashi – “ours”, meaning “the good guys” as opposed to “the other guys”, by default “bad guys”—Trans.]Not that long ago Putin’s successor Medvedev spoke about judicial reform. Before him, others said a hundred times that it is already complete and had been carried out successfully. So now it turns out that it was not carried out and not successfully? For now it can be seen that the entire reform consisted of now even a petty little judge gets three thousand dollars [a month] in salary. But all the rest –observing the rule of law, the [level-playing-field] adversarial nature of the trial process, the independence of the judiciary, and all that? This all has remained as before – Soviet.I’m afraid the pastor didn’t know this before. Or else he would have thought a hundred times before buying those bullets in his American store.P.S. Naturally, we will keep blog readers updated on the results of the court examination of this case.