Russian Court Jails American Pastor

Moscow, Russia - A Moscow court sentenced an American pastor to more than three years in prison on Monday for illegally bringing a box of hunting ammunition into Russia.

The pastor, Phillip H. Miles, an evangelist from the Christ Community Church in Conway, South Carolina, had been held in prison since his arrest on Feb. 3.

He was charged with failing to declare a $25 box of hunting rounds. He intended to give the bullets as a gift to a fellow pastor and hunting enthusiast in Perm, a city in the Ural Mountains region in Russia’s center, where he was involved in missionary work.

For this, Judge Olga Drozdova of the Golovinsky District Court sentenced Mr. Miles to three years and two months in prison, despite testimony attesting to his many years of service in Russia and an impassioned 30-minute plea for clemency delivered by Mr. Miles himself in court on Friday.

“I’m very disappointed,” Mr. Miles said after his sentencing, The Associated Press reported. “It’s a strange sentence for one box of hunting bullets.”.

Customs officials stopped Mr. Miles, 58, when he arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetevo airport on Jan. 29.

He was accused of failing to declare the ammunition as required by law, but was allowed at the time to continue on to Perm. He was arrested when he arrived back at the airport five days later. It was unclear why officials did not detain him immediately.

While he admitted to breaking Russian customs laws, Mr. Miles denied that he had done so knowingly. His lawyer, Vladimir V. Ryakhovsky, said that in the airport’s customs zone there was no indication in English that ammunition must be declared. He said that airline officials in the United States had told his client the bullets could be taken into the country.

Most importantly, Mr. Ryakhovsky said, the court failed to take into account Mr. Miles’ reputation as a pastor and humanitarian, who spent years working in Russia. He had visited the country 12 times, he said.

“How can there be talk of isolating him from society considering his reputation has been characterized positively, considering that he has never been in a situation like this before?” Mr. Ryakhovsky said. He vowed to appeal within a month, during which time Mr. Miles would remain in jail.