08/30/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – ICC has learned that the first American citizen has been charged under Russia’s new “anti-terror” or “Yarovaya laws.” While ostensibly aimed at countering extremist activity, the newly implemented laws also make the sharing of religious beliefs without proper government authorization illegal.
According to Forum 18
, an independent Baptist minister, Donald Ossewaarde, was formally charged and appeared before a court hearing on August 14 in the town of Oryol, approximately 226 miles southwest of Moscow. On the day in question, three police officers entered Ossewaarde’s home as he was conducting a worship service. Guests were questioned by police and Pastor Ossewaarde was taken to the local police station where he was charged under Article 5.26, Part 2 of the highly controversial Yarovaya laws, otherwise known as the “anti-missionary” law.
Legally defining missionary activity is a first for Russian law. The new laws define missionary activity according to the following standards:
- The activity is done by a religious organization/group or by an authorized entity or individual on its behalf
- They are briefing the individual about the doctrines of their faith
- The purpose is to encourage individuals to join the organization/group
- You are engaging an individual who is not a member or “believer” of your faith
- The activities are carried out publicly, either through the internet, media, or other outlets.
Pastor Ossewaarde was handed a fine of 40,000 Rubles (621 USD) and is appealing the fine despite his court-appointed legal counsel advising against it. According to his attorney from the Slavic Center for Law and Justice
, he was not able to defend his client at the hearing as the court refused to provide him enough time to arrive.
He joins three other individuals who have been targeted under this new law since its July 20 implementation, including a Christian Ghanaian citizen living in Russia, a Pentecostal Russian citizen, and a member of the Hare Krishna movement.
Nate Lance, ICC’s Advocacy Manager, stated, “It is disheartening to see how quickly the Russian government has started to misapply this terrible law. What was meant as a law to curb terrorist activity is punishing those who are simply seeking to worship as they wish and to share their faith. It is equally appalling that Russian authorities invaded the privacy of Mr. Ossewaarde’s home to disrupt a peaceful gathering of believers for worship. It’s our prayer that Mr. Ossewaarde’s case increases awareness of this law and its negative impact on religious liberty, while leading to much needed reform.”