Teen detained in Russia returns home

Nov 12, 2014 7:44 PM by Jason Atcho

Sterling Winter left on a trip of a lifetime a few weeks ago. The Chico High student was part of a group representing the California Association of Student Councils at a conference in Russia. "It's basically about peer to peer dialogue. It's with the U.S. State Department grant that's trying to have youth and groups from different nations communicate with one another and built partnerships," explained Winter.

The trip was cut short when government officials approached them and asked to see their passports. "There were two people in suits. A couple of police offices, and a couple of guys that were the investigators." Winter and the other three students were then questioned and detained for nearly seven hours. "While we were there, they said that we needed to get finger printed and we said we weren't going to do anything until our lawyer was present. Then they said it's protocol and 'it's going to happen either way and if you didn't don't finish by 5, you're staying the night here.'"

Winter said they used scare tactics to force them to sign documents and then took them to court to be questioned by a judge. "'At this camp, were there any political ideas discussed?' So we answered these questions at our hearing and the judge said we'll have the verdict and final hearing on Monday and that we were on a no fly list," said Winter.

All the problems stemmed from their visas. They obtained travel visas before going to Russia but the government said that was wrong. "The judge said in the verdict that that wasn't true. We needed business visas because apparently the Russian government had paid for 3 of the 6 days of the conference so they considered it a business transaction."

In court, the prosecution presented pictures taken of the students in a very discreet manner. That was one of many thing's that caused concern. "We didn't know if we could trust our own translator who was provided for us because he was good friends with the prosecution which is kind of a conflict of interest."

Overall, Winter says he doesn't regret a thing and would go on this trip all over again. "The only time we didn't feel welcome was with the government, but the people there were very kind. It was a good experience."

Winter says he kept in contact with his parents throughout the ordeal. When asked 'what was the first thing you did once you left the airport in San Francisco?' He said that he wanted to go to In-N-Out Burger and it helped make things better.


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