On Tuesday, April 2, a hearing was held on the case of Pastor Kang. He and his lawyer decided to plead guilty in order to soften the punishment for the crime.
Wade Kusack, Russian Ministries Project Manager for Religious Freedom Issues in Eurasia, says, "He agreed to plead guilty and received six months in prison and 90,000 rubles, or $3,000, in penalties." Following that, Pastor Kang was released because he had already served seven months in jail.
Kusack says Pastor Kang didn't have a choice. "He accepted the offer from the prosecutor [to] plead guilty and be free. He was separated from his family for almost seven months. It was almost impossible for him to prove the truth." (Click here for more details.)
Kusack says, "We believe that the case was fabricated by the local authorities, that the pastor gave a 'bribe' under pressure from the police officer and had been abetted by his assistant. He believes this was a test by authorities to put pressure on religious minorities. I am afraid they will practice such a situation in the future on other minorities in the future.
The following is the statement by the Russian Guild of Experts on Religion and Law:
Increasingly in Russia, prosecutorial agencies take action against the faithful, against Christian missionaries, and these actions are not, formally, prosecution initiated on the basis of their religious beliefs. Essentially, representatives of various faiths are provoked, and said provocations result in criminal, or other action.
Kusack says, "In this regard, the Guild of Experts on Religion and Law calls on the Investigative Committee of Russia, the Prosecutor General's Office, the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, and the general public to take note of the case of the Protestant Pastor Thomas Kang, a U.S. citizen, who, as a result of obvious provocation, is under investigation for bribery."
The case isn't completely over. Kusack says authorities took personal belongings from him. "There are many things that just disappeared from his apartment: jewelry, 28,000 rubles, and more things. The lawyer has initiated a case against the police officers who searched his apartment."
Kusack also says Pastor Kang will have another issue facing him. "There's a good chance that Pastor will be deported from Russia because of his so-called 'criminal' past. I don't know what will happen."
Actions such as this, which are clearly targeted at believers who are persona non grata (an unwelcome persons), as well as at active preachers who are unable to defend themselves, will inflict damage on Russia's international reputation as a Christian country. Kusack says, "What transpired with Pastor Kang is a case of blatant persecution on the basis of religion, aided by criminal provocation. There is no doubt that the actions against Pastor Kang were taken with the aim of stamping out the Christian community which he created, and developing a means of expelling him from Russia."
Kusack continues, "We hope that, both within Russia and abroad, the public will respond vigorously to such blatant violations of the rights of believers to religious freedom and freedom to practice their beliefs, which are more and more frequently being threatened under various pretexts on the territory of Russia."
Father Luis MontesAn Argentinian priest caring for the Catholic community in Baghdad says the faith of persecuted Iraqi Christians is moving and will continue inspiring future believers for generations. “The number of martyrs the Middle East is giving to the world is amazing. It is not well known but it will be in many years, and we will speak of them like we do of the acts of the martyrs of the early years of Christianity,” Father Luis Montes told Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need. “The faith they have despite the persecution is moving, as well as their sensitivity towards others,” he added, noting their profound devotion to the Virgin Mary. Christians and other minorities in parts of Iraq are being strongly persecuted by ISIS, a Sunni Islamist group that calls itself the Islamic State. After emerging earlier this year as one of the rebel groups fighting in the Syrian civil war, ISIS spread its operations to Iraq, taking control of Mosul and swaths of territory in the country's north and west. ISIS has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in its territory that mandates conversion, payment of a jizya tax, or death for Christians and other minorities who refuse to submit. Hundreds of thousands have fled due to the violence. Despite the terror that has overtaken their lives, Fr. Montes said the Christians in Iraq have remained firm in their faith. He cited the example of a Christian family in Qaraqosh harassed by jihadists and unable to flee. “The terrorists pressure them every day to convert to Islam. Their very neighbors insult them and treat them with scorn, and they can’t even leave their own home to buy food, which they are running out of. They cannot leave because they won’t let them, or because they are afraid the mother will be killed.” “One day, a group of terrorists entered the family’s home and they told them directly that they were going to take the mother away and make her some soldier’s slave. This is the frightening and terrible reality these people are experiencing and yet nevertheless they remain firm in their faith,” the priest explained. In his post on the website Friends of Iraq, Fr. Montes also discussed his own commitment to serving the people of the country. “The phrase I always say is: ‘I am not worthy to serve these people’,” explained the priest, who is a member of the Institute of the Word Incarnate. “This nation is giving martyrs. Almost all the people I know in Iraq and in other countries of the Middle East know a family member killed out of hatred for the faith,” he said. “Others have suffered direct persecution or discrimination. For us it is an honor to serve these people.” “Lord knows what He will ask of me in the future but as for me I would like to serve here my entire life.” Fr. Montes also expressed the appreciation of the faithful in Baghdad for Pope Francis, who recently sent his personal envoy Cardinal Fernando Filoni to convey his closeness to them. “This is very important to the Christians in Iraq. He conveyed the Holy Father’s care for these people and for us it is a great consolation. We pray for him.” The priest said the solution to the current crisis will require “humanitarian aid on a grand scale,” as the aid sent so far has been insufficient, as well as through intervention from the international community to stop the jihadists and cut off their financial sources. “If this is not done urgently, the cruelty, the murders and the deaths are going to go on for a long time,” he warned. More information about Friends of Iraq, the organization that Fr. Montes works with, can be found on their website, as well as their facebook page.,