Since Russia’s governing body (known as the Duma) passed its Yarovaya law in July 2016, Protestant missionaries across that vast country have been holding their breath. The law was described as putting anti-terrorism practices into place, yet several missionaries have been arrested under its guidelines. Now, after much pushback, the Duma has appointed a group to review the law.
The decision to review the law comes after a lot of pushback from Protestant leaders and missionaries in Russia, as well as the broader public. Many see the law’s restriction of missionary activities as a move to protect the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is state-endorsed. Missionaries feel their hands being tied as the laws restrict things like proselytizing on residential premises. However, the laws are subject to enforcement by local police, so the extent to which they are enforced varies greatly.
According to Forum 18, there have been 34 prosecutions of people involved in religious activity. A handful of the cases were dropped before reaching court, but 25 trials have gone on—19 resulting in conviction and six in acquittal—since the laws went into effect last year. A detailed description of what the laws state, as well as how they have played out so far, are summarized on Forum 18’s site.
Don Ossewaarde is an American missionary who is currently appealing to the Russian Supreme Court after being arrested in August 2016 for failing to inform officials he was holding a religious meeting in his home in Oryol, Russia. Although he is playing what feels like a waiting game with the Supreme Court, he is hopeful his case will be overturned and he will be able to continue his ministry in Russia.
In September, opposition to the law came to President Vladimir Putin’s attention; in response, Putin conceded the law may need to be “adjusted to not put people in a difficult position.” According to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, however, nothing was done after that statement.
Other people, besides Protestants and foreign missionaries, have been caught in the law’s tow, including a yoga instructor and four people in Moscow who were reading the constitution out loud on the streets. The outrage over the heavy-handedness of the law has prompted hundreds of thousands of Russians to sign an online petition asking for the government to “revisit the law,” according to Stratfor.
As you read their update, the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin offers the following points for those inclined to pray for the situation in Russia:
Please pray our Sovereign Lord will:
direct the thinking of the Working Group, the Duma and President Putin—gracing them all with wisdom and insight;
guide all discussions, recommendations and considerations, to the end that religious liberty might be restored.
The next step for the group is to report their findings to Putin, who will ideally call for measures that will allow more freedom for the missionaries working there.