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Anti-terrorism law snags western evangelists

East Europe

Anti-terrorism law snags western evangelists

Don and Ruth Ossewarde, missionaries to Russia

Russia’s new anti-terrorism law that President Vladimir Putin approved last summer, called The “Yarovaya law” which called for tighter restrictions on missionaries and evangelism, has resulted in at least 32 prosecutions since it went into effect in July, 2016.

One U.S. Baptist missionary Don Ossewaarde, originally from Illinois and who makes Russia his home was picked up by the police and charged with conducting missionary activities in violation of a new law that took effect last year for simply holding a Bible study.

“At a court hearing, I was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles, which is over $600,” he told Christianity Today.

But now that law might be getting a second look.

Ossewaarde appealed his case three times, and has worked his way up to Russia’s Supreme Court, where his attorneys hope the case will be heard in the next few months. He also plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court; if judges accept the case, the consequences could be immense.

“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.

Some 32 people have been charged so far; five had their cases dropped before making it to trial, Forum 18 reported. Five more were acquitted, leaving 18 convicted in the 23 trials that have taken place so far.

Many were Protestants, including five Pentecostals, two Baptists, two Seventh-day Adventists, and four other Protestants.

Though several Protestant charges were dropped for legal or technical reasons (including the charges against a man believed to be sharing on behalf of the Gideons), only one has been overturned.

Pentecostal pastor Andrei Matyuzhov successfully argued that he had authorization from a group called New Generation, and that the religious service in his home was for friends and family.

The law has drawn protests from the Protestant Churches of Russia, as well as the European Evangelical Alliance and USCIRF (the US Commission on International Religious Freedom).

But the application of the law has been seen as “a very huge question mark,” Slavic Gospel Association communications manager Joel Griffith told Mission Network News after the law’s passage last summer.

Months later, there is still no clear answer.

Officially, the Yarovaya law requires missionaries to have permits, makes house churches illegal, and limits religious activity to registered church buildings, among other restrictions. Individuals who disobey can be fined up to $780, while organizations can be fined more than $15,000.