Concerns among Russian Christians that the government’s antiterrorism legislation, adopted last year, would take away their religious freedom have been proven true.
The Yarovaya Laws, named for the lawmaker who sponsored them, ban proselytizing, preaching, and praying outside recognized religious institutions. Forum 18 counted 186 cases filed since enforcement began, with roughly half the charges against various Christian denominations and individuals or Christian-affiliated organizations. Officials later dismissed only about 20 percent of the cases. Punishments ranged from fines and confiscation of materials to orders for deportation.
Since July 2016, authorities have prosecuted Christian churches and individuals for announcing an upcoming service, conducting home prayer meetings, distributing religious calendars, failure to fully display a church name, and organizing a concert.
In one of the first cases against a Christian, officials in Noyabrsk charged Baptist Union Pastor Aleksei Teleus for allowing children to play on the playground outside his church, where they might overhear sermons and prayers or gain access to religious literature. Officials called it an “unsanctioned children’s camp” and fined the pastor 5,000 roubles (about $85).
Independent Baptist missionary Don Ossewaarde became the first American prosecuted under the law for holding a worship service in his home. Courts up to and including Russia’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest, ruled against his multiple appeals.
Authorities also targeted members of other religions, including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the most extreme example of persecution under the law, Russian officials labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremists,” liquidated their property, and banned them entirely.
The law’s vagueness has caused widespread confusion, attorney Mikhail Frolov told Forum 18.
“Believers don’t understand what is permitted and what is forbidden,” he said. “It is possible to sentence people under this for any religious activity.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: September 8, 2017