The case of a U.S. missionary to Russia may be the first to call Russia’s anti-evangelism law into serious question.
According to Christianity Today, Don Ossewaarde is a missionary from Illinois. He was arrested last August for holding his weekly Bible study and accused of conducting missionary activities which ran contrary to the so-called “Yarovaya law,” which restricts evangelistic activity in Russia.
The law was approved by Russian president Vladimir Putin and went into effect last July. It prohibits a variety of evangelistic and church-related activities, such as handing out Bibles, holding Bible studies which are not state-sanctioned, running a house church, evangelizing without a permit, and allowing children to play within hearing distance of sermons.
The law has received a lot of pushback from Christians and human rights activists, but Ossewaarde’s case is the first to have made it all the way to Russia’s Supreme Court.
“This makes Ossewaarde's case the first under the ‘anti-missionary’ amendment to reach this level in the Russian courts, and the first to issue a challenge to the legislation itself,” Forum 18 reported. “The Constitutional Court, if it accepts the appeal, will examine whether the amendment contravenes the provisions of the Russian Constitution.”
Ossewaarde and his lawyers hope that his case will go beyond his personal vindication and will cause the Russian government to rethink the validity of the entire law.
Since the law was enacted, 32 people have been charged. Eighteen were ultimately convicted and told to pay fines which can be up to $780 for an individual or more than $15,000 for an organization.
The law is also seen as a way to protect the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely tied to the Russian government.
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Publication date: January 25, 2017