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Religious oppression in Russia

2016-JUL: Anti-missionary bill signed into law

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The Russian Orthodox Church is recognized as the official church in Russia. This makes the rights of other religious groups in that country to be somewhat tenouous.

On 2016-JUL-07, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a group of anti-terrorism laws that included tight restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism. The laws went into effect on JUL-20. 1,2 The laws forbid:

  • Religious groups from assembling in a member's home.

  • A person evangelizing another individual in their own home.

  • Emailing an invitation to attend a church meeting.

  • Any form of activity intended to recruit individuals into a faith group.

  • Emails, online postings, etc. intended to preach, teach, or recruit others.

Webmaster's note:

Although the intent of this web site is to inform and not to preach, teach or recruit, passage of this law probably means that still another country has been added to the list of countries that I cannot visit.

The law set maximum fines at the equivalent of U.S. $780 for individuals and $15,000 for organisations.

However, an individual may be able to obtain a government permit through a registered religious organization, and evangelize if they restrict themselves to churches and other specified religious sites.

Before the law was approved, Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia and a former Moscow church-planter, said:

"Most evangelicals -- leaders from all seven denominations -- have expressed concerns. They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process." 1

Oleg Goncharov, spokesman for the Seventh-day Adventists’ Euro-Asia division, said:

"If this legislation is approved, the religious situation in the country will grow considerably more complicated and many believers will find themselves in exile and subjected to reprisals because of our faith." 1

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However, the prayers did not work, By an almost unanimous vote by members of the Duma and Federation Council -- the upper and lower houses in the Russian government -- the laws were passed on JUL-08.

However, it appears that the Russian Orthodox Church will be able to continue to evangelize Russians freely. About 70% of Russians, and 90% of ethnic Russians belong to that denomination. The law appears to be aimed at Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the Mormon church -- and similar Protestant groups who constitute a total of about 1% of the population. 3

An English translation of Chapter 24 of the law states, in part:

"For the purposes of this federal law, missionary activity is recognised as the activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, with the purpose of involving these people as participants (members, followers). It is carried out directly by religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entities authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet or other lawful means." 4

However, the amendment does state that sharing of religious beliefs may be carried out "without hindrance" in the following places:

  • In religious premises, buildings and structures, as well as on land on which such buildings and structures are located;

  • In buildings and structures belonging to religious organisations or provided to them in order to carry out their statutory activities, as well as on land on which such buildings and structures are located;

  • In premises belonging to religious organisations or provided to them in order to carry out their statutory activities, as well as on land on which the buildings containing the relevant premises are located, by agreement with the owners of such buildings;

  • In premises, buildings, and structures and on land owned by or provided to institutions established by religious organisations;

  • On land owned by or provided to religious organisations;

  • In places of pilgrimage;

  • In cemeteries and crematoria; and

  • In the premises of educational institutions historically used for religious ceremonies. 4

David Aikman, a history professor and foreign affairs specialist, said:

"The Russian Orthodox Church is part of a bulwark of Russian nationalism stirred up by Vladimir Putin. Everything that undermines that action is a real threat, whether that’s evangelical Protestant missionaries or anything else." 1

Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, joined with other evangelical leaders to criticize the law as a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience. They sent a letter to President Putin which was posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo. It says, in part:

"The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions.

Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.

The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions. Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.

[It’s] the most draconian anti-religion bill to be proposed in Russia since Nikita Khrushchev promised to eliminate Christianity in the Soviet Union. For years we have watched as huge changes take place in Russia under the increasingly dictatorial rule of President Putin and his administration. Freedom of religion represents a threat to the current political agenda in Russia. Today, few—if any—foreign Christian mission groups have an official presence in Russia, having been pushed out by anti-evangelical regulations." 3

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Human Rights Watch said that the law is an:

"... attack on freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and the right to privacy that gives law enforcement unreasonably broad powers." 1

Professor Jake Roudkovski, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary said:

"Baptist churches in Russia will survive … [persecution] is nothing new to them … [But it] will significantly undercut all of the missionary activities [though it] will not stop [them] altogether." 3

Jerry Johnson, President of National Religious Broadcasters -- which, in spite of its name, is an international group restricted to evangelical Christians -- said:

"Following a pattern of other human rights abuses, Vladimir Putin's Russia is criminalising a central duty for all followers of Christ -- sharing our faith." 3

Mukaddas Bibarsov, Co-chair of the Council of Muftis and head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Volga Region said:

"Spreading faith is a statutory objective of almost every religious association, organisation and group alike, as well as a way to practice their religion for believers, who until recently had a constitutional right to share their creed with others, be publicly baptised, read prayers, offer literature, and just talk heart to heart. ... It remains unclear what the legislators want to achieve. If by regulation of missionary activity they plan to solve other problems, such as control of foreign preachers, then we have corresponding branches of law, such as migration and anti-extremist legislation, the law on freedom of conscience, and so on." 4

Ganoune Diop, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at Adventist World Church said:

"What is at stake here is more than freedom of religion. It also includes the other fundamental freedoms: freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. All of these fundamental freedoms are interrelated, interdependent, and indivisible." 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. Kate Shellnutt, "Russia's Newest Law: No Evangelizing Outside of Church," Christianity Today, 2016-JUL-08, at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  2. "Anti-Missionary Law In Russia,"2016-SEP-13, at: http://about-dvorkin.ru/
  3. "Russia: Church reacts as Ďanti-missionary billí becomes law," World Watch Monitor 2016-JUL-15, at: https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/
  4. Victoria Arnold, "RUSSIA: Sharing belief restrictions, increased "extremism" punishments?," Forum 18, 2016-JUL-04, at: http://www.forum18.org/

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How you may have arrived here:

 Home > Worldwide religious intolerance > Russia > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-SEP-19
Latest update : 2016-SEP-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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