US Pastor Jailed for Ammunition Smuggling
A U.S. pastor was sentenced to three years and two months in prison by a Moscow court on Monday for illegally bringing to Russia 20 rifle cartridges. The defense lawyer has said that the sentence was surprisingly harsh and promised to contest it in a higher court instance. So did the Christ Community Church to which the pastor belongs and the U.S. embassy in Russia.
Phillip Miles, a pastor from the Christ Community Church in Conway, South Carolina, was arrested in Moscow on February 3 when he was returning from a trip to the North Russian region of Perm where he was visiting a friend, also a protestant pastor. When Miles was in Russia for the last time, his friend, also a Protestant pastor, told him that he had got an American-made hunting rifle and Miles was bringing him a present - a box of 20 rifle cartridges. The ammunition travelled in the luggage and Miles said that he had no problems with the U.S. customs officers.
In Moscow things were different. Customs officers saw the cartridges as they checked Miles’ luggage on their x-ray machine and asked him what it was. He said that it was rifle ammunition and the box was confiscated and sent to the experts who established that the things were what they were supposed to be - rifle rounds.
At this point Miles was not detained yet, but allowed to continue his trip to Perm, but the police asked him to report on his way home. Miles did so and was arrested and charged with illegal transportation of ammunition and ammunition contraband.
The court sentenced him to serve three years and two months in prison, with the sentence calculated from his detention date.
Miles, dressed in a dark jacket and clerical collar, reacted calmly when the sentence was pronounced.
“I’m very disappointed. It’s a strange sentence for one box of hunting bullets,” he said.
The judge who chaired the court session said that the information billboards in the airport contained information on items that were to be declared at the customs in Russian and in English and also in graphic images.
The defense lawyer said that while the Russian text on the billboards contained the word “ammunition,” there was no such word in the English text and the cartridges on the picture could be mistaken for firecrackers or something else. The lawyer said that he would protest the court decision.
On Tuesday a source in the United States Embassy in Russia told the RIA Novosti news agency that the embassy had urged the court to reconsider the sentence.
“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow continues to raise the issue of the Mr. Miles’s case with the Russian authorities, in support of an appeal or shortening of the prison sentence,” the agency quoted an embassy staffer as saying.
According to the Russian laws the sentence can be contested within ten days after it is pronounced.
Combined report - MN, AP, RIA Novosti