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NEWS STORY: Trial Records Offer Glimpse at Monitoring of Religion in Russia

c. 2003 Religion News Service MOSCOW _ In a secret court case that offers a hint into the mechanics of last year’s expulsion of at least two dozen foreign religious workers from Russia, an American member of the Unification Church has lost a legal battle to return to Russia where he worked for seven years. […]

c. 2003 Religion News Service

MOSCOW _ In a secret court case that offers a hint into the mechanics of last year’s expulsion of at least two dozen foreign religious workers from Russia, an American member of the Unification Church has lost a legal battle to return to Russia where he worked for seven years.

The nine-page verdict released Tuesday (April 22) provides a rare glimpse into how the Russian security services tap phones, spy on foreign missionaries and compile blacklists that are distributed to 12 former Soviet republics, where much of the secret police apparatus of the KGB is still in place.

The case of Patrick Nolan, 35, of Milford, Conn., is exceptional both because his 21-month-old son was left stranded in Rostov-on-Don for 10 months and because he chose to fight his expulsion from Russia, where he had worked for Sun Myung Moon’s Family Federation for World Peace.

Nolan, whose case was monitored by the U.S. Embassy here, was the first foreigner to mount a legal challenge to being kicked out of Russia.

“In general, the missionaries haven’t dared to go to court,” Galina Krylova, Nolan’s lawyer, said Wednesday.

Krylova was extremely reluctant to comment on the case until she had read the written verdict because she, and other participants in the seven-month proceeding, were sworn not to reveal what they heard, saw or said in the courtroom. The case was kept secret at the request of the FSB, the massive state security apparatus that inherited most of the duties of the Soviet-era KGB.

However, Krylova was adamant that Nolan’s case was about his religious activities and membership in Moon’s controversial Unification Church, not about Russia’s national security, as the FSB maintained. An FSB spokesman declined Wednesday to discuss the case without a written request, which went unanswered as of Thursday evening.

In a telephone interview, Nolan scoffed at the notion that he is a national security threat and chalked up his expulsion to ignorance about the Unification Church throughout Russia, which is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church.

“None of our work was religious but they attacked us anyway because we are connected to Rev. Moon. Basically, they did to me what they did to the (Protestant) missionaries and Catholic priests,” said Nolan, who did not want to disclose his location in Eastern Europe for fear the FSB might use its influence to have him expelled from that country, too.

Earlier this month, Nolan arranged for his son, Kyle, a U.S. citizen, to join him. Nolan will continue working for the Family Federation for World Peace, living in Eastern Europe with Kyle and his nanny, who is also Nolan’s fiancee. Nolan is divorced from Kyle’s American mother.

In a Thursday e-mail exchange, Nolan bristled at an airport security officer’s testimony _ included in the verdict _ that Nolan was free to walk about and visit the snack bar after his passport was seized without explanation at Moscow’s main international airport on the evening of June 2.

“They put me in a dinky room with a chair and a couch and no air … and immediately locked the damn door behind me,” Nolan recalled. “The next time they opened it was 8 hours later … after I begged for about a half-hour to use the toilet.”

In the end, the judge in the secret court proceeding, Maria Vlasova, ruled that the Border Guards who detained Nolan acted appropriately. In her verdict, Vlasova also sided with the FSB in its judgment that Nolan’s “activities on the territory of our country are destructive in nature and represent a threat to the security of the Russian Federation.”

Krylova, Nolan’s lawyer, said the FSB never explained specifically how her client was a threat.

One year ago this month, the Russian government’s expulsion of foreign religious workers started making headlines with the deportation of a Roman Catholic priest and bishop. On human rights and religious freedom grounds, President George W. Bush raised the issue at a summit last May in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB colonel. Pope John Paul II later sent a personal letter to Putin asking what was happening.

Aside from vague references to national security, the Russian government has never explained itself, although some of its thinking was illuminated with the December leak of an internal memo that classified Catholics as the No. 1 religious threat to Russia’s security.

Nolan was the first, and perhaps the last, to take his case to court.

One of Russia’s leading religious freedom lawyers, Anatoly Pchelintsev, said, “Without a doubt his case is important, but it is not to our advantage, to the advantage of missionaries.”

Pchelintsev, who leads Moscow’s Slavic Center for Law and Justice, sees no sign of foreign missionaries’ lot improving.

“It is not getting better. It is still tense, stably tense. We can’t rule out that (an expulsion) might happen tomorrow,” he said.

The most recent publicized expulsion came in February, when Father Bronislaw Czaplicki, a Catholic Pole, was denied a new residence permit. Russian officials insisted it was a purely administrative matter and the priest could return. That has yet to happen.

Father Stefano Caprio, the first Roman Catholic priest to be expelled a year ago, said Wednesday in an interview from Rome that he began last week his first formal attempt to return to the city of Vladimir, where he had been a parish priest.

“After a year, it seems that the whole business has more or less lost its political meaning,” Caprio, an Italian citizen, said in reference to last year’s political firestorm that resulted when the Vatican created four new Russian dioceses and infuriated the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.

In accordance with Russian law, Caprio’s parish is asking that the priest be granted a visa to come to Russia and work as their priest. Caprio said he is not overly optimistic but, if rejected, pledged to seek a legal foothold for a court challenge.

“If they refuse the parish’s request and offer an explanation, then we hope there will be a basis for a court case,” Caprio said. “A foreigner doesn’t have the right to live in Russia, but the parish has the right to invite me.”