RUSSIA: Swedish Protestant is Latest Deportee.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 12 September 2002

Swedish Protestant Leo Martensson, who arrived in the German city of Frankfurt yesterday (11 September) on a flight from Moscow, is the latest religious deportee from Russia as the authorities step up their campaign against foreigners working in the country at the invitation of local believers (see separate KNS article). Martensson had been working for nearly nine years in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar. Martensson's lawyer, Aleksandr Antipyonok, told Keston News Service from Krasnodar on 12 September that the deportation was ordered by a Krasnodar court on 10 September and his valid visa was then cancelled. "This was an illegal decision - there is no basis for it," he declared. "He was here legally: he had a valid passport, visa and residence permit. He is completely innocent." Antipyonok intends to challenge the court ruling to a higher court within the ten-day period.

Antipyonok was determined that the authorities should not be allowed to "illegally" deport foreigners invited to work with local churches. "If we don't register our protest and make our voice heard, such precedents will become the norm," he warned. "This is a great danger to our democratic state." He said that if the authorities had any complaint against Martensson, they should have come to the inviting organisation to complain, not punished the individual.

Martensson had been invited to work in Krasnodar krai by the local diocese of the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union (ECMU), a Protestant denomination which is registered both nationally and locally. Speaking to Keston from Germany on 12 September, Martensson declared that his multi-entry one year visa, which had been valid until 15 July 2003, was immediately cancelled in the wake of the court hearing. "The head of the visa office wrote across the visa by hand 'annulled in connection with expulsion' and the internal affairs directorate of the Krasnodar city executive committee stamped the passport with the same message." He said that border officials made no comment on the cancelled visa when he left from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

Martensson told Keston his difficulties began after he returned to Russia from a two-month foreign trip. Having crossed into Russia from Finland on 17 August (when his passport was stamped), he did not reach Krasnodar until 11 pm on Sunday 18 August. On 21 August his church went to the Krasnodar visa and registration office (OVIR) and handed in his passport for local registration. The law on foreigners requires foreign citizens to lodge their papers for registration within three working days of arrival at their destination. However, the local OVIR officials, pointing to the stamp confirming his entry to Russia, declared that four days had elapsed and that he had therefore violated regulations. Church members tried to explain that he had not been in Krasnodar for the whole four days and that in any case Saturdays and Sundays do not count as they are not working days, but officials refused to listen to the explanations.

On 10 September the administrative court of Krasnodar's Lenin district not only ruled that Martensson should be deported, but also fined him 500 roubles and ordered that he be held in custody until his deportation. Antipyonok told Keston that Martensson's church colleagues managed to persuade the Interior Ministry officials that his health would not stand being held in custody until the appeal against the deportation had been heard (he suffers from diabetes) and that Martensson would be prepared to fly to Moscow and leave the country while the issue was resolved. The holding centre then released him and allowed him to leave.

Martensson, whose German wife Gundi and their daughter Kati are still in Krasnodar, said he did not know why he had been expelled. "We can only guess - they wanted to get rid of me. I'm an active missionary." He told Keston he believed it was more likely that the expulsion had been instigated by the local Muslim clergy in the republic of Adygea, a region surrounded by Krasnodar krai where he had led an unregistered Protestant congregation, than the Federal Security Service (FSB, one of the successors of the KGB). "I heard last year that the Adygea FSB had declared that I'm not a spy."

His suspicions were echoed by a member of the ECMU congregation in Krasnodar, who told Keston on 12 September that the Muslim clergy had already threatened Martensson that he should leave "or it would be bad". The church member - who preferred not to be named - said the church was disappointed by the expulsion. "We didn't expect this at all. Some say the Muslim clergy bribed people to achieve this. Others say the decision was taken at a higher level. But this is just speculation."

Antipyonok declined to speculate on who might have been behind the expulsion, concentrating instead on what he believes is the illegality of the move on the part of the OVIR and the court. "For some reason our state agencies did not work properly." He said he was hopeful the "illegal" court ruling would be overturned on appeal and that Martensson would be allowed to return.

Both Antipyonok and Martensson noted the cases of other foreigners whose visas had been stripped from them. Paul Kim, a South Korean who had been working for several years in Kalmykia in the same diocese of the ECMU, had been detained on arriving back at Sheremetyevo airport at the beginning of the year, was arrested, had his visa cancelled and then put back immediately on the same plane to South Korea. They also cited the case of German Lutheran pastor Wolfgang Spieth, who had been working in Krasnodar at the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia and the Other States (ELKRAS) and who had had his visa revoked in spring of 2001. "He was told that his visa was not valid as it had been issued in Moscow, not in Krasnodar," Martensson reported. (END)