Russian Evangelicals Are the Most Penalized Under Russia's Anti-Missionary Law

Fines are 5,000-50,000 rubles

After Moscow banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, the next on the line to be under the Russian scrutiny lens are the evangelical Protestants. The latter has attained the unenviable position of being the most prosecuted group as per the controversial “anti-missionary” laws in force in the country. More than 50 percent of all alleged violations cases were made against evangelicals.

As per Forum 18, among a total of 159 organizations and individuals prosecuted for demonstration of faith in a public place, Pentecostals made up 50 of them and Baptists 39. The Forum 18 is a news service specializing in religious freedom issues prevalent in the Russian geographical region. Mikhail Frolov, a Society for Krishna Consciousness lawyer, says that such prosecutions deliver a chilling effect. Last year 103 individuals and 56 organizations faced prosecution as per “anti-missionary” amendment to Religion Law. These amendments were introduced in July 2016 bearing the name “Yarovaya laws.” Among a total of 159 prosecutions, the courts imposed about 132 initial convictions and a total of 129 fines. Forum 18 pointed out that over 50 percent of the Russian political region witnessed a minimum of one prosecution.

Almost all prosecuted individuals last year are Russian citizens. Only 14 foreigners were prosecuted, with one of them being prosecuted twice. Three were deported, but one won an appeal to stay. Russian law enforcement machinery continues to take advantage of “anti-missionary” legislation so that they can control and punish the exercise of belief in not only public but in private places as well. Both Russian prosecutors and police continue to interpret a wide spectrum of activity to be a “missionary” one. This may range from posting social media videos to praying in one’s own home with friends.

Russian evangelicals claim that violators of the Yarovaya laws who are outside the fold of Moscow sanctioned Russian Orthodox Church has a greater chance of suffering punishment when authorities charge them. These fines begin from 5,000 rubles in case of individuals and a minimum of 50,000 rubles when applied against organizations. Vladimir Ozolin, a lawyer for the Pentecostal Union, said that believers are afraid to preach due to hefty fines. He pointed out Russian law enforcement agencies automatically assume that any church activity is some missionary activity. This premise may not be true at all. For Protestants, it is a no-win situation.

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