PREACHER DEPORTED FROM RUSSIA ON BASIS OF "YAROVAYA LAW."
Indian protestant's wife and small child remain in RF
by Mikhail Shubin
Otkrytaia Rossiia, 3 March 2017
An assistant protestant pastor, Viktor-Immanuel Mani, became one of the first preachers to be expelled from Russia on the basis of the "Yarovaya Law" on missionary activity. He lived in Naberezhnye Chelny along with his wife, a Russian citizen, and small child. Late last year a certain Alexander wrote a denunciation against Mani; he considered that the assistant pastor was conducting illegal missionary activity.
Viktor-Immanuel Mani, an Indian, had lived in Naberezhnye Chelny since 2010. He moved there after completing medical school in St. Petersburg. In Naberezhnye Chelny he married Natalia Starikova. A little more than a year ago a daughter was born to the family. All this time he had a residence permit. After the birth of the daughter, Viktor-Immanuel planned to submit documents for receiving Russian citizenship.
In Naberezhnye Chelny, Mani was engaged in business and he planned to open classes in the English language. In addition, he was an assistant pastor and he conducted services in a church of Pentecostals (one of the denominations of protestantism that arose in the USA). The religious organization was officially registered in Naberezhnye Chelny more than five years ago under the name "Love of God Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith." For worship services, the church rented facilities in one of the business centers in Naberezhnye Chelny. About thirty persons attended the small parish.
Viktor-Immanuel's wife said that the church had many detractors. One of them was a certain Ioann Iisusovich Khristov. He began attending the parish about three years ago.
"Ioann Iisusovich behaved insanely. Viktor-Immanuel asked him not to attend meetings, because such conduct upsets people. Ioann Iisusovich took offense and started threatening my husband. He wrote angry emails: for example 'I will not rest until you are deported along with your wife from the country.' We are believing people and we forgave him," Natalia Starikova explained.
After this, Khristov periodically called attention to himself. In 2016 he wrote several statements to the prosecutor's office with a request to check up on the terrorism and extremism of guests from America who visited Mani and his wife. Viktor-Immanuel was summoned several times to the prosecutor's office for conversation, where he had to explain what kind of people had visited him. After several of Khristov's statements, Alexander visited the Love of God Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith.
Alexander attended a service four or five times, Mani's wife recalls. He was an observer and he did not make contact with parishioners. On 4 December Alexander bought a book from one of the parishioners. He did not appear in the church any more. Alexander went to the prosecutor's office with his purchase and wrote a statement about Mani. He said that the assistant pastor allegedly personally handed the book to him and two brochures for Alexander to distribute among his acquaintances.
"This man simply lied. He wrote a statement that Mani supposedly gave him these materials and said: 'Go call your friends here, and if you will do this, God will love you.' He never would have said such a thing. He always said that God's love is unconditional. Whether you do anything or not, whether you are a good person or bad—God loves everybody. Viktor-Immanuel did not even talk with him. Alexander approached him to shake hands and there was no further conversation between them," Natalia explains.
After Alexander's statement, a case of administrative offense was opened on the basis of part 5 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF ("Conducting missionary activity with violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession, and on religious association, done by a foreign citizen"). These changes appeared after the amendments introduced by the so-called " Yarovaya anti-terrorism package," among which were restrictions on missionary activity.
On 20 December, Mani was summoned to the prosecutor's office before ten in the morning. By two in the afternoon the case had been submitted to a judge and another half hour later it was considered on the merits. When Mani went to the prosecutor's office, he did not suspect that the case would take such a serious turn. Usually visits initiated by Khristov's statements were limited to a conversation. Instead of an attorney, Victor-Immanuel was allowed a translator. No witnesses for the defense were summoned to the trial and Alexander himself did not attend. At five in the evening Mani was given a copy of the order. The judge sentenced the assistant pastor to a fine of 30,000 rubles and deportation from the country.
An attorney who is now representing the interest of Viktor-Immanuel, Denis Litvinov, is puzzled why the decision was adopted so quickly. In addition, it is unclear why witnesses for the defense were not summoned.
Litvinov said that the city court did not take into account that Mani had married and that he has a year-old daughter. As a citizen of another country, Mani's passport does not have a stamp about the marriage. He did not have documents confirming the marriage in his possession.
Right before the court's decision, Ioann Iisusovich Khristov [= "John Son-of-Jesus Christ"--tr.] wrote to Viktor-Immanuel's wife on a social network: "Bear in mind that I am here and you will be cursed."
The decision about deportation was appealed in the Supreme Court of Tatarstan in late January. But there the judge did not listen to evidence of witnesses and also did not take into account that nobody had invited Alexander to the meetings. The court also did not pay attention to the existence of Mani's child and legal wife.
"It is amazing that the judge did not question where the witnesses for the prosecution were. We had witnesses, but where are the witnesses of Alexander, who wrote the statement? We see that this is all a put-up job. I cannot confirm this because I do not have proof. But we feel that Alexander works for the police. And his statement was even written very competently," Viktor-Immanuel's wife explains.
The Supreme Court left the decision of the first instance in force and ordered Mani to leave Russia within three days. Also, the attorney Litvinov said that to a question about why the court was breaking up a family the judge replied that they can leave to live in India with Viktor-Immanuel.
The assistant pastor of the Pentecostal church was forced to fulfill the decision of the court and he departed for his homeland within the ordered time. Now the lawyer who is representing Mani's interests is preparing an appeal to the Supreme Court of Tatarstan.
"We will fight on. If the sentence is not overturned here, we will file in Moscow and then even in the European Court of Human Rights. We will seek a review of the case, because this is a clear violation of our rights. What, should I go off into exile with my husband like the wife of a Decembrist? In observing one law, the court violated two—on freedom of conscience and the Family Code, according to which a parent and a child should not be separated. The article provides for punishment in the form of a fine or a fine plus expulsion from the country. But they decided to choose the most harsh measure. Viktor-Immanuel did nothing criminal, that he should be punished with such a sentence," Natalia thinks. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 March 2017)
Russian original posted on Portal-Credo.ru, 7 March 2017
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