An evangelical Christian pastor from Russia has described how he has fled his homeland to seek political asylum in Germany because he says he fears being imprisoned as a terrorist.
Alexey Kolyasnikov, from Sochi,, said: ‘Why Germany? The Protestant Church here is strong.’
He added: ‘It is very dangerous to return to Russia. There, I will be declared a terrorist and put behind bars.’
Kolyasnikov is now living as a refugee in a shelter in Leverkusen in Germany, along with his wife and three daughters.
He fled in July this year, three years after he and his congregation of Pentecostal Christians met as usual for worship in a café and agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service turned up and accused him of holding an unauthorised religious gathering.
Unauthorized gathering” in a café
Kolyasnikov is convinced that he is being persecuted for his religious activities in Russia. In 2014, the pastor held a gathering with his Pentecostal congregation. As they do not have their own church building, the congregation members met in a café in Sochi as usual. On that evening, police officers and members of the Russia’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB) suddenly appeared during the bible reading. They accused Kolyasnikov of holding an unauthorized gathering, which is a civil violation.
“Six weeks previously, a young woman attended our gathering for the first time. From then on, she took part in everything – she was very interested in the topics we discussed. However, on the evening the FSB appeared, she did not come alone, but with a friend, as she called him,” recalls Kolyasnikov.
Later, it turned out that the supposed friend actually worked for the intelligence agency FSB. That young woman and her friend later testified against the pastor in court. Alexander Popkov, Kolyasnikov’s lawyer, said that in the past, the woman had also appeared in trials against other religious communities in Sochi.
The judges imposed a fine on Kolyasnikov for “organizing an unauthorized gathering.” After filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for the violation of his right to religious freedom in the Russian Federation, the pressure started to mount. And then, all at once, a Ukrainian trail was added to the story.
He was subequently fined after a court hearing.
He says attempts to link him with political events in Ukraine are not justified.
Kolyasnikov’s lawyer Alexander Popkov told DW that the Ukraine situation has heightened tensions in Russia which wants to keep religious communities in their country under control. ‘And Kolyasnikov has refused to be controlled,’ he added.