16  September 1999

'MY BODY WAS BROKEN, BUT MY SOUL WAS ON FIRE' PROFESSOR NIKOLAI ALYOSHIN DETAINED IN KRASNODAR SPECIAL PRISON, WHERE HE ESTABLISHED AN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY AND BAPTISED 42 PEOPLE SUMMARY OF INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY KNS CORRESPONDENT, ALEKSANDR SHCHIPKOV On 8 April 1999 Professor NIKOLAI ALYOSHIN, Doctor of Agricultural Sciences and member of the Krasnodar Church of the Evangelical Christian Missionary Alliance (ECMA) was arrested under the terms of Article 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (embezzlement of funds) and Article 303 of the Criminal Code (falsification of documents). In September 1998 Alyoshin had written a letter to the President of the Russian Federation informing him about some irregularities in the management of a factory for rice production which had been built as a joint Russo-Italian venture with an Italian investment of 20 million dollars. On 8 April 1999 Alyoshin  was called to the Procurator's office to give an explanation of the content of his letter to the President:  instead, however, he was charged with the falsification of financial documents and was arrested.  All manner of improbable accusations were brought against Alyoshin, including a claim that he was working for Israeli intelligence.  Finally he was charged only with the theft of 12 thousand roubles. The regional judge, GENNADIY LAPTEV, who was overseeing Alyoshin's case, announced a week before the trial ended that he would be sentencing him to a prison term of two to six years in an interview with the newspaper, 'Krasnodarskiye izvestiya' (21.07.99).  Following an appeal by Alyoshin which listed the irregularities in the conduct of the investigation and trial, his sentence was suspended on 8 September 1999.  His lawyer, ALEKSANDR ANTIPYONOK, is now campaigning for  a judicial review. During his confinement in Krasnodar Special Prison (SIZO), Alyoshin founded an evangelical community of prisoners called 'The Brotherhood of the Friends of the Lord' and baptised 42 people.  Conditions in the prison were very harsh.  The Krasnodar special prison had been built to accommodate two and half thousand people, but it currently has eight thousand inmates.  Overcrowding and restrictions in the water supply  result in unsanitary conditions and illness. Despite the physical hardships, Alyoshin had a real conviction that God was calling him to found a church in the cell.  He managed to obtain a copy of the Gospels from a prisoner facing the death penalty.  This prisoner attached portions of the Gospels to a string made out of unravelled socks and lowered it down the pipe which connected all the toilets in the cells. This unorthodox method of communication was how Alyoshin managed to begin his missionary work.  For many of the inmates the message of Christ's love and redemption was a revelation.  Many had been involved in drug abuse, and were habitual criminals who had become used to believing that they were neither loved or needed.  Once Alyoshin explained God's love for them, a number were converted and asked to be baptised.  Alyoshin performed these baptisms in the cell: the prisoner would declare his faith and kneel in front of his cell-mates as Alyoshin poured two handfuls of water over his head.   Instead of the usual activity of either doing drugs or playing cards, Alyoshin's cell became a place of prayer and Bible study which continued from morning til night.  The cell walls, instead of being covered with obscenities, had the Lord's Prayer written in several languages on them.  The prison authorities soon became aware of what was happening and started to move the Christian prisoners from cell to cell.   One of the prisoners, YEVGENIY KVASNIKOV, was moved to a special regime camp in the Urals for 'reeducation' following his conversion and consecration as an elder of the church. During his time in prison, Alyoshin was particularly struck by the problem of drug abuse. Up to 90% of those arrested have some connection or other with the drug trade.  Drugs circulate freely in prison.  Confessions are made in exchange for drugs: many of the inmates discussed the 'rates' they were offered in exchange for a voluntary court appearance where they confessed to an unresolved crime.  Drugs, therefore,  are being used to bring about the closure of unresolved criminal cases.  Alyoshin has become convinced that the ECMA needs to develop a ministry among drug-users and is planning to preach on the problem of drug addiction. As well as the usual prison hardships, which meant that in the space of six months Alyoshin lost twenty kilos in weight, he was subjected to brutal treatment by the authorities. He was several times called out of the cell for further questioning.  He would be led to a tiny room where electric shocks were administered, following which he would lose consciousness  This took place four times.  Following one such occasion, when Alyoshin regained consciousness he discovered that his hair had been shaved in the form of the star of David.  Sometimes he was tortured by the criminal investigator of the regional procuracy, MAKSIM ZLOBIN, who was overseeing his case.  Alyoshin was hand-cuffed and was suspended by them from a door in the corridor of the Procurator's office while he was having a consultation with his lawyer.    This happened four times.  Despite this treatment, Alyoshin says that he was filled with joy because God was using him to save others: 'my body was broken, but my soul was on fire'. The Brotherhood of the Friends of the Lord continues to  exist now that Alyoshin has been released from prison. The Krasnodar Church of the ECMA has decided to set up a department for missionary work among prisoners.  A exchange of letters between the brothers in prison and the Krasnodar church has begun.  When they are released, they will work with the ECMA in a rehabilitation centre which is run by the ECMA for released prisoners.  Those who have been transferred to special regime camps have been told to take the Word of God with them.  In Alyoshin's words, they need to be strong in the knowledge that they  have been chosen by God, that they belong to the priesthood of all believers:  'when a person  begins to realise and accept  that they have been specially chosen by God they do not fear any physical hardship.  He knows that he is chosen by God and will take the Word of God everywhere he goes: to other cells and other camps'.