The Case of Mihail Calestru and Oleg Savenkov
By Willy Fautré & Aaron Rhodes – Brussels/ Vienna, 21 March 2016
Mihail Calestru (left) and Oleg Savenkov (right), both members of the Unification Church, were arrested and detained on Friday, 30 October 2015. Their case constitutes a grave attack on religious freedom in Moldova.
HRWF/FOREF (21.03.2016) – The arrest and prosecution of two members of the Unification Church in Moldova, Oleg Savenkov and Mihail Calestru, on anti-trafficking charges is an assault on religious freedom that violates Moldova’s international human rights obligations. Charges against the two men should be immediately and unconditionally dropped, according to two independent, international human rights monitoring groups, Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) and the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe (FOREF),which investigated the case during a fact-finding mission to Moldova in January 2016.
The charges against Oleg Savenkov and Mihail Calestru were brought as the result of a dispute within the Unification Church that led to the exclusion of several members. Chapter I provides facts about this dispute, the defendants, and their arrest. It also provides an analysis of the charges against them. Moldova’s anti-trafficking law is unusually broad; for example, it includes the criminalization of “begging” as a form of labor exploitation. The Prosecutor’s allegations against the two men are based on assertions made by excluded members of the Church claiming that the activities organized by the defendants were criminal activities as defined by the anti-trafficking law. The allegations furthermore state that the Unification Church was established in 2008 as an “organized criminal group” for the explicit purpose of carrying out such criminal acts.
Chapter II provides a summary of the main beliefs of the Unification Church, which was founded in Korea by Sun Myung Moon after the end of World War II, and a short history of the Church in Moldova, which has about 120 members.
Chapter III shows why the charges against Oleg Savenkov and Mihail Calestru are baseless. Rather than being an “organized criminal group,” as the State of Moldova has claimed, the Unification Church has adhered to principles and activities consistent with its legal registration as a religious organization, and its own internal rules. Its fundraising activities have been undertaken in accordance with its internal rules, and have been considered a “spiritual activity.” While the allegations claim that the defendants are guilty of organizing a criminal group (the Unification Church), Oleg Savenkov, a Ukrainian citizen, was not in Moldova when the Church was founded, and Mihail Calestru has never been a part of the Church leadership.
HRWF & FOREF consider the case to violate the right to religious freedom for the State has defamed a religious group and attacked its very existence by labeling it an “organized criminal group.” The State has furthermore interfered in the affairs of the Unification Church by taking sides in a civil dispute and subjecting some of its members to criminal charges at the behest of others.
Chapter IV provides relevant information about the legal and political context. Moldova is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Moldovan Constitution enshrines fundamental civil and political rights, including the freedom of religion. The Office of the General Prosecutor is the most powerful legal institution in Moldova, but has been associated with corruption and ties to the Communist Party since Moldova gained independence. Moldova has been suffering from a protracted crisis of governance for many months; protests have erupted throughout the state, many of which are driven by the alleged corruption of law-enforcement officials and the judiciary.
The Report concludes with recommendations to Moldovan officials, international intergovernmental and human rights bodies, and civil society human rights campaigns.
NOTE: Human Rights Without Frontiers and the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe are secular, nonpartisan, independent organizations. We defend the basic human rights of individuals but do not have any position about the teachings and practices of religious and other groups to which the individuals may belong.
For more information or interviews, please contact Aaron Rhodes (FOREF)
Tel.: 0049 170 323 8314