RUSSIA: Five More U.S. Protestants Denied Entry.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 4 October 2002

Five U.S. Protestant church workers based in the city of Kostroma 370 kilometres (230 miles) north east of Moscow were denied entry visas to Russia this summer in accordance with the same legal provision cited against the banished Irkutsk-based Catholic Bishop Jerzy Mazur - "in the interests of ensuring state security".

One of the five, Jeffrey Wollman, told Keston News Service from the United States on 23 September that he and his wife Susan initially came to work in Kostroma at the end of 1999 by invitation from a Colorado-based "Christian humanitarian aid organisation whose primary focus is orphans". The couple had taught life skills classes at two local orphanages and held a discussion group for English-speaking college students, Wollman reported, as well as conducting a computer studies programme.

Later aligned to a different, explicitly Christian missionary organisation, the Wollmans began to hold their classes in premises belonging to Kostroma Christian Church, an independent Restoration Movement church (affiliated in Russia with the Prokhanov movement) founded by U.S. citizens Ronald and Virginia Cook.

While at a Christian convention in Ohio this June, the Wollmans were informed by their U.S. travel company that letters of invitation to Russia supporting their next visa application had been "overridden by the FSB". Attending the same convention, the Cooks reported that they had been denied visas outright.

After attempting to bypass the situation by obtaining 90-day visas through the regional Kostroma department dealing with visas and registration of foreign citizens, the Wollmans learnt on 1 August that the Russian Embassy in Washington had nevertheless rejected their visa applications and that of their son Jordan.

In a 19 July reply to an enquiry regarding the reasons for the denials sent by Vladimir Denisychev, who is president of the Association of Evangelical Churches of which the Kostroma church is a member, an official from the Consular Department of Russia's Foreign Ministry wrote that both the Wollmans and the Cooks were refused entry on the basis of Article 27 Part 1 of the 1996 federal law "On the Entrance To and Exit From the Territory of the Russian Federation". This states that foreign citizens may not be granted entry to Russia if they are deemed to pose a threat to state security.

"We cannot understand the motivation," Wollman told Keston. "We had done everything legally and above board. Not only had our curriculum been reviewed and approved by the department of education, but the authorities had had the life skills and character development portions vetted by an Orthodox priest of their choice."

Under Article 24 Paragraph 2 of the 1993 Russian Constitution, the government and its officials must ensure to everyone access to documents and materials which directly affect their rights and freedoms, unless the contrary is provided by law. Pointing this out in a letter to Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 25 September, the Wollmans asked to be told "clearly and specifically what infractions we are alleged to have committed." Once in receipt of this information, the couple maintain, they will be in a position to "address and refute the allegations made against us".

Meanwhile, Leo Martensson, a Swedish missionary working in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar who was expelled from Russia on 11 September (see KNS 12 September 2002), has so far failed to have the deportation order overturned in the courts. He told Keston from Germany on 25 September that his challenge to the revocation of the visa in the Krasnodar regional court that day had failed. "The judge rejected our appeal without giving any reason." The local visa office claims that Martensson failed to register there within the prescribed period of three working days. He maintains that his documents were lodged with the visa office on the third working day after his return to the town.

Martensson's lawyer, Aleksandr Antipyonok, told Keston from Krasnodar on 4 October that the judge has twelve days from the date of the hearing to produce a written determination giving the reasons for rejecting the appeal. "I don't know how he will justify his decision," Antipyonok declared. "I am 100 per cent sure the judge's arguments will be plucked from the air." He added that during the three-minute hearing on 25 September, the judge appeared reluctant to deal with the case. "I felt from his mood that he was subject to political pressure." (END)