The personal testimony by Mihai Calestru And Oleg Savenkov about what kind of hell they experience in the Moldovan prison and how they got there.
Testimony by Mihai Calestru
On Friday morning, October 30th, 2015, at about 7.35 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of the doorbell. Two police officers from the “Anti Human Trafficking Department” arrived to search my home apartment (the 1-room apartment that belongs to my mother in law). They showed me the document from the Prosecutor's office with the statement that I am suspected of a crime under art. 165. al. 3. Of the Moldovan Penal Code relating to Human Trafficking by Criminal Organized Groups over the period 2008-2015, under cover of carrying on a religious organization.
They produced the name list of identified victims. In the list were included ex church members that were recently excluded from the Church for aggressive behaviour towards the church and causing disturbances at its Sunday Service. During my conversation with the policemen I got calls from my colleagues and understood that at the same time 4 other groups of police officers carried out raids under warrant at 4 other locations connected with the UC of Moldova. My wife went to take my 4 year old son to the kindergarten and I gave the policemen my laptop, two size A6 notepads containing my notes, one USB flash drive and my bank card. All this was recorded on paper. I hope these things will be returned to me. I felt the policemen were surprised at seeing the humble living conditions of my family, because I was accused of crimes involving huge amounts of money. All household appliances and furniture in our small one room apartment were old and modest. Our family did not possess any luxury items, did not own a car or have any savings. In my discussions with the officers I felt they realized that the accusations were fabricated and in a certain respect treated me favourably as a result.
They asked me to go with them to their offices. Two hours later, after Mr. Zama (the chief of the Department) announced to me that on the basis of my status of being a “suspect” I already enjoyed “accused” status as well and that I was under arrest for 72 hours. A State appointed Defence lawyer came to the office at about 2 pm. For the entire period since my arrest (at 7.35 am) until 2pm (more than 6 hours) I had been waiting for him to come. When we started our conversation he was very passive. I felt I could not count on him because he did not express any interest at all in supporting me. At the same time I had no way to get a good lawyer to come there in a short time. Only after calling two lawyers and hearing how much they wanted to charge did I realize how heavy the charges were under article 165. During my interrogation based on the number of questions and the amount of papers generated by my case, I came to understand that my phone had been tapped over the preceding 5 months or more.
After 4 pm, I was transferred to the Remand Centre. At the Remand Centre, after a complete medical check up, I told the guards that I was a non-smoker and would very much prefer to stay in a cell on my own rather than share with a smoker. However, even though this request was granted I found that smoke was entering my cell from the hallway. On entering the room I immediately noticed that it was dirty. Conditions in the room were terrible. It was about 8 meters square in size. It had an iron bed with wood on two levels and a dark blue mattress and two dirty and smelly cotton covers for each bed. It was very cold because the heating system wasn’t yet on. Through a small window with double rows of iron bars I could see the sun light for just 3-4 hours during each day. This was such a source of joy and delight to me. The room had a toilet separated from it by just a brick wall so there was a bad smell but one did not notice this so much after a while, because one’s nose gets adjusted to the smell. I didn’t necessarily feel safe to cover myself with the blankets available. In fact they proved to be unsafe. After 2 days my face and hands bore signs of a number of insect bites. I am very allergic to insects and the places where I was bitten got red and swollen. Also, I had no towel, no tooth brush, and was unable to take a bath for 6 days.
After a couple of hours I was invited by guards to take some food from the kitchen. There was one plate with a kind of soup in it but which was cold already and very salty and some buckwheat porridge with fish. And I could get a cup of tea from a big 20 liter container. The level of hygiene was very shocking. After each of the 3 meals provided per day, the guards asked us to wash our spoons, plates and cups. In the room, there was a dirty small iron sink, but only with cold water and no soap and also no washing up liquid. My obvious question to the guards was “who washes our plates and spoons after we eat”? “Nobody!”, answered the guards. I felt so humiliated. Food is served at the next meal on plates just in the same inadequately washed state as the inmates had left them at the end of the previous meal. Next day, I complained to a doctor about this. I feel this is an outrageous and almost criminal attitude toward people who were detained merely for the purposes of being investigated by the police for 72 hours. I felt disgusted and deeply demeaned.
Every day, each room was supposed to be allocated exercise or walking time. However the rule was not respected every day. Sometimes prisoners would ask to go for a walk but the guards would answer that the exercise yard was busy. However, the truth is that the guards were lazy and just gave this answer to avoid the requests for exercise. One time we received such a reply but, after insisting, discovered that the exercise yard was being used at all. Although the lawyer allocated to me promised to visit me on the afternoon of the next day, he did not come. Also an officer of the Anti-Human Trafficking Department mentioned to me that on Saturday there would be some more interrogation and also clarifications relating to my case, no such thing happened.
It was very difficult in a spiritual sense to be alone in such a dirty place (by dirty I mean not just in the external or material sense but in terms of the spiritual atmosphere). I tried to connect to God and to find strength through Him. As I was praying, I felt that God was encouraging me. After 2 days, God gave me a roommate, an old men over 53 years old who had been disabled since childhood and who walked with the aid of sticks. He had a Bible. I felt so much joy and gratitude towards Heaven for sending me that person. I felt that God responded to my prayers through him. We read the Bible over the next 3 days - Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Doing so was such a source of delight to me.
On Monday morning I was summoned to appear in court. I noticed that to the papers detailing the case against me was added a record of a phone call I had had with Vitalie Ciconi on the topic of fundraising. This piece of paper with a verbal record of the phone conversation cost me 60 days (or maybe more!) of imprisonment. For over two months, the prosecutor didn’t produce any other document or alleged proof of my guilt. Judges did not even attempt to listen to or to clarify the circumstances of this phone discussion. No matter what arguments and explanations I gave, the judges stuck to the same decision – that I should be imprisoned for the course of the investigation.
Without even looking at me and with a voice seeming to indicate that he was half asleep, the judge extended my detention for a further 30 days. My lawyer pleaded that the sheet of paper in question (the record of my phone conversation about fundraising with Vitalie Ciconi) by no means upheld the suspicion that I was guilty of any trafficking crime. I explained the circumstances and reasons for my call but my explanation fell on deaf ears. After waiting for a while in the hallway for the judge to make his final decision, I had the chance to talk with the prosecutor. I told her that I was interested in sharing the truth about this incident and the reasons behind it. To this very day I have never been called to the investigator’s or prosecutor's office for any further discussion. I felt she was not interested in knowing the truth but was just performing the already predetermined task. I was hoping the prosecutor’s purpose was to seek for the truth but not to be an executioner who wants to win by all possible means. After experiencing passivity and indifference on the part of the judge and even my own lawyer, I blamed myself for being too naive in trusting the Moldovan justice system.
Conditions in jail: Due to the lack of hygienic conditions my health got worse. I asked for medical assistance because I often had headaches. The doctor gave me an injection to diminish the allergic reaction to insects’ bites. He checked my blood pressure and discovered that it is unusually high for my age and lifestyle. Finally, a few days later, my wife could manage to overcome all the bureaucratic requirements and bring me some food and a tooth brush. When I was transferred to the main jail #13, I spent the first 9 days in the quarantine room. The bathroom had a sink and a toilet next to it. I was finally able to take a bath in small plastic container after having spent 6 days in smelly, dirty and very unsanitary rooms. Of the 10 inmates in room 8, some were smoking heavily, as many as 3 or 4 cigarettes per hour. The room ventilation wasn’t functioning and no daylight could enter the room. The 2 windows only faced inwards towards the hallway. Because quarantine rooms are provided with an unlimited supply of cigarettes, my new roommates were smoking nonstop. It was like a hell.
My first night I couldn’t sleep at all. I just felt the heavy smoke burning my throat. In the Court of Appeal my request to be placed in a separate cell with non-smoking people, was ignored. I felt so weak that I asked for medical assistance. The guards called for an ambulance and I got some medication to help me breathe. I felt as if I was suffocating for lack of enough air to breath. Again I felt that it is so unjust and humiliating to treat people like this. If you do not smoke you should have the right to apart from those who do smoke. Years ago my NGO ‘International Education Foundation’ was providing character education lectures in Moldovan jails for prisoners. Now I felt that maybe after overcoming the present case, I should launch a new project to fight for the rights of prisoners. While inhaling the smoke I couldn’t help thinking about the dozens of lectures that I had given to thousands of teenagers in schools and colleges about the dangers of smoking. The only time I could enjoy fresh air for a couple of hours was during the night time when all my fellow inmates were asleep. However, some of them would awaken during the night and smoke. I too was awakened by the smoke. Exercise time was a mere one hour per day in a small box of 10 square meters.
Living conditions in cell number 88, which was the next place I was imprisoned, were even worse than in the quarantine room. For the next weeks up until my release on December 29th, I shared an 10 square meter cell with 5 other people. The only things you could do in the room were to stand, sit on the bed, or to lie down on the bed. There was no space to walk. The iron beds dated from 1959. The bed's mattress was half destroyed and the blankets were dirty. At the same time, the toilet was the only source of water and the only place where we could wash our plates, spoons and cups. The water was so bad that if you drank it cold you did not sense the bad smell and bad taste. However, once it got warmed up a little bit, it was quite impossible to drink.
The toilet walls were covered with black mold spots. Another terrible thing was that if you got into any trouble or you needed any emergency medical assistance, the guards were simply not at hand. I had the experience several times of knocking on the door and calling for the guard’s assistance for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, or even 1 hour but getting no response at all. Even when asking for medical assistance during the daily morning visit from the prison administration, requests from inmates were still routinely ignored. I personally requested medical assistance from a dentist 2 or 3 times but got no answer. My roommate had some skin problem and, over the course of a week, every day asked for medical assistance. Finally he received some medicine to administer himself, but none of the doctors in prison offered him any assistance. When in court I asked the judge whether she knew about the terrible conditions people are imprisoned under and she said that she was aware of it. To my mind, that makes the situation even more terrible.
I thank God for being home now, but it is very possible that next week I will have to return to prison if the Appeal Court changes my order of house arrest to one of being remanded in custody, at the Prosecutor’s request. My above experiences have led me to reflect on the absurdity, ignorance and deep unfairness of the proceedings that are being taken against Oleg Savenkov and myself as well as against the church itself. My main reflections are that the accusations being made against our group are based on several false assumptions to each of which there is a very clear and irrefutable response which leaves us all with no case to answer.
First, it is said that members were recruited and manipulated psychologically by the UC’s teachings and that the Church and its teaching are just a cover for criminal actions and that they exploit and manipulate the membership. It is implied that the Church has no right to exist and that its teachings are not real and are not worthy to be taken into account. In fact, the Church is registered and exists entirely legally. It has its own distinct teachings and own congregation. The main accusation amounts to our not being a genuine religion despite the fact that our church is registered as such. Our UC community is very small. Such a small church is very easy to annihilate or deprive of legal protection by cancelling its legal status and property. That is what is being sought on the basis of no incriminating evidence but much evidence of good works and positive.
Second, by donating funds to the church, members are being manipulated and are not giving of their own free will or from their own religious In fact, all churches exist on donations and ours is no different. The reasons why any particular person decides to make a donation to a particular church can very easily become the subject for theological, scientific, or even legal debate and, later, become the source of accusation. None of the churches in Moldova are subject to Fiscal Investigation. State and Church are considered as separate entities and defined as such by the Constitution. To close down our church would set a very dangerous social, political and legal precedent for similar treatment to be inflicted on any of the other churches in Moldova, starting of course with the smallest and most vulnerable. Using the same logic and reasoning as is being used, orthodox monks fundraising in public places are the victims of Orthodox Church Leaders. That such a thing could happen in Moldova is unimaginable, but now it is happening and who knows who will be next after the Unification Church.
Third, it is alleged that having been manipulated, members marry people in such a way as to be kept under the church’s control through marriage. Beside the blessing rituals themselves, for which of course there is a clearly defined procedure, all couples in the church are entirely free to make civil marriage arrangements as they see fit. Moreover, for some time now, members have been free to marry according to their own wishes and to ask to receive the marriage blessing as a previously married couple. Eduard Guzun, the eldest son of Elena and Valeriu Guzun (the principle accusers in this case) received the Blessing but later broke it and then married again, a person entirely of his own choosing. Since that time with his wife he has attended and received the Blessing (including the holy wine) as a previously married couple.
Fourth, according to the Prosecutor's own words in court based on statements made by prosecution witnesses, members that refuse to donate to the church or to do fundraising for the Church are expelled from it. (this should be audio recorded at the Appeal Court on December 7th). This is manifestly untrue and is false testimony offered to the prosecution either by Elena Guzun or by her husband Valeriu Guzun. The truth is that they themselves behaved badly on numerous occasions while still church members. Their abusive behavior between 2008-2015 involved numerous instances of verbal abuse against members, unauthorized opening of the church donation box, physical blocking of access to the Sunday Service with violence, threats of physical revenge against members, false accusations against church leaders, repeated and open disrespect for church elders, spreading lies about other church members in social media, threats to expel from the building all those that refused to obey Hyung Jin Moon the leader of a breakaway splinter group from the UC.
These were the main reasons for their expulsion from the Church at the request of and upon the majority vote of church members. However, it is noteworthy that their son Eduard Guzun is even now legally a member of the Unification Church. Before his parents were expelled, he came to the church Sunday service only at his Mother’s insistence. Now, after his parents are no longer members, he is not coming at all. Furthermore, there are a number of members who never went fundraising or donated even once a year and yet they are still church members. Finally, I cannot help wondering how these “victims” explain their silence during the long 8 years from 2008 till 2015 and how come they have only now decided to protest in 2015?
Testimony by Oleg Savenkov
On October 30th 2015, I was spending time together with my wife and children. We were in a shopping centre when Vitaly Ciconi called. He said that some people wanted to ask me a few questions but that everything would be OK. When we arrived at the police station, one officer explained that they were detaining me for 72 hours, on the basis of some accusations they had in their possession. After my lawyer came, I wrote a document stating that at the moment I would refrain from being interviewed.
After that, I was taken to the Remand Prison. It was an agonizing experience for me there. Nobody used force or violence but the mere fact of having to stay in such a horrible place reduced me to despair. The heavy atmosphere is not even possible to describe. The room was so dark and smelly. It was full of heavy smoke. It was very cold because the ventilator window was open. Spiritually, it was very hard for me to find myself in such a place with very negative and low spiritual energy all around. It was even difficult to pray in such conditions. Nevertheless I stayed alone in a small room for two days and spent a lot of time in prayer.
After 3 days of imprisonment I was told that I would spend another 30 days in jail. First, I found myself in a quarantine room. It was certainly not pleasant. In the quarantine room, everybody was always smoking. The smell was killing me. I cannot describe their foul language, the atmosphere was awful. In my church life I was always working on purifying my soul from ungodly things. Through finding myself in such a blasphemous place I realized how holy are our brothers and sisters in the church by comparison. I felt myself so helpless in my desire to save their souls but I could not believe that it was possible. I felt shame before God for having such Once a day we were taken out for a walk within the walls of a small prison yard, all the rest of the time we stayed in the cell.
Later, I was moved to another cell and had to share it with 3 other. The cell was 2 metres by 5 metres in size, much smaller than in the quarantine room. The mattresses were very old. The wire mesh under the mattress was sinking in some places. For a long time I did not receive any bed clothes, nor any mug or spoon. I never got a plate. Since the cell was located in the basement, the air was very stale. One more very strange thing to me was that my fellow inmates had already received terms of imprisonment. I felt so embarrassed. How could they put me in the cell with such people? I was just under investigation, and they are repeat offenders. I was treated like a criminal, despite my life of full dedication to others and to God's work. I had always striven for goodness and sacrificed my personal needs for the sake of others. During my life I have participated in so many noble and altruistic projects as a volunteer. I have always lived a modest life and do not possess any expensive things or even a car. And yet now I was treated like this and placed in such I could not help being reminded of six unjust imprisonments that our Movement’s Founder, Sun Myung Moon, went through. When I saw my inmates I could feel the broken Heart of God when He saw His sons in such horrible conditions with such little hope of bringing them to His Kingdom. I prayed a lot during that time. Only prayer helped me to be strong and go In addition, I cannot forget times when we were taken to court. In the prison vehicle it was so horrible. They crammed a mass of people into a completely dark space. Some were sitting and some standing. Between 14 and 16 people were crammed into a 4 square metre box. Only if you had a strong immune system could you be confident of being protected against flu or any other respiratory infections. In such conditions we went off to court. I thought, “how could it be possible to treat people like this”? At the appeal hearing, too, we were often placed in such booths with standing room only.
In addition, when I found out that one of our sisters, Lilia Akhunzyanova, had passed away, I felt such great despair. She was just 39 years old and had four children. Now her husband was alone and having to take care of the children by himself. When I found it out, all kind of thoughts came into my mind. I could feel that all our church community was under enormous pressure and stress. Some of them were interrogated and scared. I was worried for them and of course for my pregnant wife and for my daughters. Because I knew that, like Lilia, my wife was experiencing great fear and stress. I was worried for our child whom we had long been expecting.
Moreover, later I found out that the Media had been attacking our church and had been describing us as “criminals”. I understood that all our church foundation and its reputation could be destroyed. It was unbelievable to me to go through such discrimination in a nation that professes to follow European values and standards. I am grateful to God that I can be with my family at the moment and write this testimony.