Tuesday 21 September
PROFESSOR NIKOLAI ALYOSHIN DETAINED IN KRASNODAR SPECIAL PRISON, WHERE HE ESTABLISHED AN EVANGELICAL COMMUNITY AND BAPTISED 42 PEOPLE
by Aleksandr Shchipkov, Keston News Service
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). On 26 July 1999 he was sentenced to two years� imprisonment. On 8 September 1999 his sentence was suspended and Professor Alyoshin was released. ALEKSANDR ANTIPYONOK, lawyer for the ECMA church, has been conducting Alyoshin�s defence. He states that the charges against him had been fabricated and continues to campaign for a judicial review of the case. 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. Professor Alyoshin states that while he was in prison he was tortured and insulted. He gave an interview to KNS.
Aleksandr Shchipkov: Nikolai Yevgenevich, first of all I would like to hear more about your missionary activity in the Krasnodar special prison, but since the second hearing of your case has not cleared you of these accusations and you are still considered to be a criminal who is working out his sentence, I would like to ask why you were arrested.
Nikolai Alyoshin: In September 1998 I wrote a letter to the President of the Russian Federation informing him that a group of individuals from the administrative authorities of Krasnodar region and the leadership of the Scientific-Technical Rice Centre were attempting to remove a Russo-Italian factory for rice production, which was being financed by Italian credit, from the international system of payments. It had taken an investment of twenty million dollars to build the factory. This money was to be repaid to the Italians through external credits. Certain individuals with an interest in the centre, in particular YEVGENI KHARITONOV, deputy director of the Krasnodar regional government and head of the Rice Centre, decided to close it down and transfer the factory to an unsuitable owner. I was working at the Centre as an adviser to the general management. Instead of making the loan repayments on the basis of factory revenues, in accordance with the original agreement, it was decided to reschedule the debt onto the budget of the Russian Federation, which led to a further collapse in the value of the rouble. My letter to the President gave a detailed account of what was happening. The President�s administrative staff informed me that my letter had been passed on to the General Procurator�s office, which passed it on to the Krasnodar regional procurator who in turn passed the letter to the town procurator�s office and it finally ended up with the Prikuban district procurator, whose area of jurisdiction includes the Scientific-Technical Rice Centre. Now the Centre has been closed, its property has been distributed to unsuitable persons and Kharitonov has been appointed as director of the Rice Institute, where my father worked for many years and where I also worked.
(Yevgeni Kharitonov was appointed in 1994 by Boris Yeltsin as head of the Regional Administration of Krasnodar. In 1996 Yeltsin removed him from his post. During his term as governor he was an active member of the movement �Our Home - Russia� led by Chernomyrdin. After he left the post he attached himself to the new governor, N.Kondratenko (a supporter of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation) and occupies various administrative posts in the region.)
A.S.: How did your arrest come about?
N.A.: On 8 April 1999 I was called to the Procurator�s office to give an explanation of the content of my letter to the President; however, instead I was charged with the falsification of financial documents and was arrested. They came out with the most improbable accustations. They claimed that I was working for Israeli intelligence, that I was involved in the smuggling of grain and that I had misappropriated 5,000 US dollars and stolen 12,000 roubles. In the end all of these absurd accusations fell by the wayside and I was charged only with the theft of 12,000 roubles. I am certain that pressure was being put on the investigative authorities and on the court to put me behind bars no matter what. The regional judge, GENNADI LAPTEV, who was overseeing my case, announced a week before my trial ended that he would be sentencing me to a prison term of two to six years (in an interview with the newspaper �Krasnodarskiye izvestiya� on 21 July 1999).
A.S.: Where did this story about you working for Israeli intelligence come from. Are you Jewish?
N.A.: Not at all! It is just that this is a live issue in Krasnodar. The authorities believe that once evangelical Christians start saying that they are seeking a spiritual Zion that this means that they are part of a world Jewish conspiracy.
A..S.: Why was your sentence suspended?
N.A.: I made a formal complaint giving details of irregularites in the criminal investigation, of my mistreatment in prison and so on. The regional court decided that my complaints were unfounded but ordered that my sentence be suspended �taking into account the identity of this individual�.
A.S.: What did they mean?
N.A.: I have no idea. Perhaps it is because of my academic work on agriculture, or possibly they were alarmed because prisoners were being baptised.
A.S.: Are you a pastor?
N.A.: I am not a pastor, simply an ordinary missionary, but as evangelical Christians we believe in the priesthood of all believers. There is no other way for a Christian. When I was under arrest in the special prison I had the strong conviction that the salvation of a person is linked with the salvation of others. The Lord gave me some revelations. I saw and heard Christ and He said to me �Baptise!�. Then I formed a house church in the prison and called it the �Brotherhood of the Friends of the Lord�. When I was choosing a name for this prison church I drew inspiration from Christ�s words: �I do not call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have received from My Father�.
A.S.: When did you become a Christian?
N.A.: I joined the ECMA in March 1999, but I have been working closely with its founders for more than ten years. Ten years ago I arranged the visit of a very effective missionary, the American astronaut Charles Duke. This made a strong and long-lasting impression on me.
A.S.: How did you perform baptisms in the cell?
N.A.: In the usual manner. People would stand in the middle of the cell and answer questions about their desire to be baptised. They would then kneel down in front of all their fellow prisoners. I would take two large handfuls of tap water and pour it over their heads.
A.S.: So, given that you had running water in the cell, the conditions were bearable?
N.A.: Conditions were appalling! The Krasnodar special prison had been built to accommodate 2,500 people, but it currently has 8,000 inmates. In the observation cells, designed to hold four people, up to thirteen people are held. I spent three months in such a cell. Imagine a railway compartment in which thirteen people live for months. In the larger cells it is easier. They are designed for 32 people and hold between 60 and 70 people. It is less crowded. We had huge problems with the water supply. During the day we only had water for one or two hours. This led to infections and unsanitary conditions.
A.S.: How did the other prisoners treat you?
N.A.: No abusive words were ever spoken to me. For some reason not clear to me the prison authorities moved me from cell to cell. One of the cells was filled with people who had some connection with Israel. They were either Jews, or had relatives in Israel. I suppose that they placed me with Jews because of their idiotic belief that I was connected with the Zionist movement.
A.S.: So prisoners are placed in cells according to their nationality?
N.A.: At least some prisoners are. At one time I was in a cell with a group of Crimean Tatar prisoners. I once had contact with Mustafa Dzhemilev and perhaps that is why I ended up in this cell. Mustafa Dzhemilev was a Soviet dissident. In the 1960s-80s he was the leader of a national movement of Crimean Tatars, who were deported from Crimea by Stalin in the 1940s. In 1969 he became a member of the �Moscow Initiative Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR�. He served five prison terms in all for �anti-Soviet activity�.
A.S.: Did you have a Bible in prison?
N.A.: I was arrested with only the clothes I stood up in. I did not have a Bible or anything else that you might need in prison. However, they soon passed on a copy of the Gospels from the cells on the first floor, where the �vyshaki� are held.
(�Vyshaki� are those who have been sentenced to the death penalty (vyssheye mera nakazaniya - highest measure of punishment) All these prisoners have been reprieved by order of the President following Russia�s signature of the European Convention on the Abolition of the Death Penalty.)
N.A.: In the cell above us, one of the prisoners facing the death penalty was a man called Volodya, who was known as �the saint�. He was a member of a Pentecostal church but then left because of his drug addiction. He killed four drugdealers with an axe. Once he was in prison he again started to read the Gospels and the Old Testament. I talked with him through the �pipe�. He was enthusiastic about creating the Brotherhood and sent us portions of the Gospels wrapped in polythene through the �pipe�.
A.S. :What do you mean, �through the pipe�?
N.A.: We used ordinary iron pipes which run between all the lavatories in the cells. We would put a string made out of unravelled socks down the pipe, which we called a �horse� and we would tie letters to it. This is probably the most unhygienic postal delivery service - but it is the only means possible in prison. I used this copy of the Gospels, received in this way, to begin my missionary work. This happened in the special punishment cell number 13, where each person had to make do with only forty square centimetres of space. Later the ECMA managed to get a copy of the Bible to me but this was not easy for them to do. The prison authorities objected and my lawyer, Aleksandr Antipyonok, had to obtain permission from the prison governor for the Bible to be given to me. This copy of the Bible was taken by the first of our elders, YEVGENI KVASNIKOV. He was a longstanding prisoner and was the overseer in our cell. After he had been converted and baptised they changed his �tochkovka�, declared him to be an �undesirable element� and sent him to a prison camp in the North Ural mountains in the village of Kharpy, which is specially intended for the reeducation of �undesirable elements�.
(The illegal practice of so called �tochkovkas� is still maintained in places of detention. The prisoner�s records are annotated with additional indicators - stripes, stars, bullet points ( from where the term �tochkovka� comes) - which are used to categorise the prisoner�s behaviour, habits and world view. For example, these annotations may be used to define a �socially harmful element�, �leader of negative behaviour� etc. Depending on the nature of his tochkovka a prisoner may be transferred to a camp with a particular regime: in this case reeducation.)
N.A.: So Zhenya (Kvasnikov) has gone with his Bible on a missionary journey to places where a missionary has never been before. On his journey to the camp he sent us letters from Saratov, Kazan and Vyatka, saying that he had begun to evangelise and to baptise people. After his departure, the ECMA sent us another Bible.
A.S. : How did your cellmates first react when you started to preach about Christ?
N.A.: At first I simply told them Bible stories. I explained what books made up the Bible. This aroused some interest but nothing more. Then I began to explain the main message of the Bible - the concept of the redeeming work of Christ, and explained how, by the shedding of His blood, Christ paid the penalty for all our sins. This shocked them. They did not believe me. For the overwhelming majority of my cellmates this was a revelation. They saw Christ in Old Testament terms. They had become used to believing that nobody loved or wanted them. They had got used to being in trouble with the law and committing all kinds of crimes. When you can explain to them the idea of Christian love which goes beyond the law they very quickly come to a state of repentance. Our cell 13, whose inmates periodically changed, became a prison baptistry. Then they put us all in different cells because of this and sent Kvasnikov to the Urals. Our cell walls had the Lord�s Prayer written in several languages on them instead of the usual obscenities. The prison authorities decided to renovate the cell and remove all traces of our activity. They painted over everything.
A.S.: How did Zhenya Kvasnikov become an elder?
N.A.: When the community was formed I told my brothers that the Lord was not a God of chaos but of the universe, of a world which is ordered. If we were going to establish a church we would need to elect an elder to lead the community, oversee property and look after the prayer-life and relationships within the church. When there were four of us, we chose Yevgeni Kvasnikov as our elder and consecrated him. When he was sent to the Urals we consecrated a second elder, ALEKSEI BUTKO. Alyosha is a student of the Krasnodar Technological University. He is serving a sentence for exceeding reasonable force in self-defence. He comes from the Cossack village of Staromyshatovsk and is a clever, good-looking young man. After his release he wants to set up a community in his village and I think that he will be a good elder.
A.S. :What was Kvasnikov sentenced for?
N.A.: He was imprisoned for armed robbery. He attacked some drug dealers. It is possible that he had a drug problem at one time, but I have never asked him about this. In general the majority of those serving sentences for robbery have had some connection with drug dealers. The practice is such that more often it is the drug users rather than the dealers who are arrested. Up to 90 per cent of those arrested have some connection or other with the drug trade. Drugs circulate freely in prison. Confessions are made in exchange for drugs. I�ll give you an example of a typical conversation in the cells. One of the inmates would say �You have very low prices in Krasnodar - for a confession you only get given one �chek� (a quarter of a gramme of opium), but in Tikhoretsk you get five�.
A.S.: Are you suggesting that when drug addicts are arrested they are offered drugs in exchange for a voluntary confession to a crime?
N.A.: It is probable, although I have not been present at any such dealings. However, all the inmates talked about it. Some drug addicts make up to two hundred confessions. Drugs are used to bring about the closure of unresolved criminal cases. I am now gathering information about drugs and intend to preach about the problems of drug addiction at our next church meeting. Unfortunately this is a very serious problem today. People are dying and we need to save them.
A.S.: What happened during your meetings in the cell?
N.A.: In the other cells people were either doing drugs or playing cards. In our cell we were constantly talking about God. We would read the Gospels, have Bible studies and pray together. To all intents and purposes these meetings would last all day.
A.S.: So prison had some advantages over freedom...
N.A.: Perhaps that is so.
A.S.: Did you preach only to prisoners or to the prison wardens as well?
N.A.: Some low-ranking prison wardens would come from time to time and ask us to explain parts of the Bible to them. But not one of them was converted and became a member of the Brotherhood.
A.S.: Were you beaten?
N.A.: No, not once. They obviously did not want to leave any marks on my body. I was given an electric shock four times.
A.S.: How did this take place? In front of the other prisoners?
N.A.: No. They call you out for questioning or a talk, take you out of the cell and lead you to the exit. When you ask them where they are taking you, the usual reply is �to be shot�. They see this as a joke. Then they put you in this tiny room which measures one metre square. You wait there to be called. The door opens and a person whom you do not recognise comes in with a baton which administers electric shocks. He places electrodes on your neck, presses a button and you get a shock. Afterwards you lose consciousness. I have no idea how much time passed before I regained consciousness. This happened four times. Then an officer comes in and behaves as if nothing has happened - you are invited to come with him and have a little talk. Then a polite conversation begins but your eyes are rolling, your tongue is hanging out of your mouth, you are going into spasms and so on. On one occasion when I came to after receiving such treatment I found that they had shaved my hair in the form of the star of David. Sometimes the criminal investigator of the Prikuban procuracy in charge of my case, MAKSIM ZLOBIN, tortured me. He put handcuffs on me and hung me on a door in the corridor of the Procurator�s office. I spent forty minutes talking to my lawyer in this state. This happened four times.
A.S. :What did you find most difficult during your imprisonment?
N.A.: I am not going to lie - physically it was very hard. In the six months that I was in prison I lost 20 kilograms. But when I realised that I could only survive in prison by saving others it became much easier and I was filled with joy. My body was broken, but my soul was on fire.
A.S.: Now that you have left prison does the Brotherhood of the Friends of the Lord still exist?
N.A.: As a result of my arrest and the founding of the Brotherhood, the ECMA has decided to set up a department for missionary work among prisoners. Our newly-baptised brothers have started to write to the ECMA and a exchange of letters 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 the camps have been told to take the Word of God with them to the camps. They have been told not to forget that they have been chosen by God, that they must be part of the priesthood of all believers. When people begin to realise and accept that they have been specially chosen by God they do not fear any physical hardship. They know that they are chosen by God and will take the Word of God everywhere they go: to other cells and other camps. (END)
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