Russia’s legislative and judicial branches are reviewing a controversial law with heavy-handed restrictions on religious freedom. The statute, known as the Yarovaya Law (named for the bill’s sponsor in the State Duma), is especially harmful to those who wish to preach and teach the Gospel. Government permits through registered religious groups are required for evangelism, and such outreach efforts are essentially restricted to church building sites. Already, dozens of individuals have been prosecuted by Russian authorities for practicing their faith in alleged contravention of this law.
One individual so charged was Donald Ossewaarde, a Baptist missionary from Illinois who had ministered in Russia since 2002. Officers interrupted a Sunday Bible study at his home last August, brought him to a police station, and fined him 40,000 rubles (approximately $600). His conviction was upheld in court; however, his case has now reached Russia’s Supreme Court and is also being appealed to the nation’s separate Constitutional Court. It is the first such case challenging the Yarovaya Law to reach this level of judicial scrutiny.
At the same time, the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin reports that following petitioning by Russian citizens, the Duma this month established a working group to review the law. Notably, President Vladimir Putin last fall stated that the statute may need to be “adjusted to not put people in a difficult position.”
Last summer, Dr. Hannu Haukka, President of Great Commission Media Ministries, which is actively engaged in Russia, said, “This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church. Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”
Responding to the law, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, then declared, “The United States government and all other nations that profess a commitment to religious freedom should urge Russia to repeal this unjust law. Let’s pray this new iron curtain of Christian persecution in Russia will be lifted quickly and without harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: January 27, 2017