Arrest has been made based on testimony from witnesses who insist the teacher was trying to spread Hinduism.
A yoga teacher in Russia was arrested in St. Petersburg, Russia on the charge of indulging in missionary activities. The arrest was carried out amidst fears that the teacher’s talks would led to the creation of new religious cults. Russia currently has a law in place banning all missionary activities. The yoga teacher’s speech was seen as provoking religious sentiments and an attempt to spread the Hindu religion.
Yoga guru Dmitry Ugai was addressing a small gathering at a health and wellness festival in St. Petersburg about the philosophy of yoga. 40 minutes into the speech, he was surrounded by police who roughly dragged him away to be thrown in prison. Ugai’s words were interpreted by officials as trying to say that yoga is a religion that people should accept, which proved him guilty of breaking the anti-missionary Russian laws.
Although yoga is fairly popular in Russia, its connections with Hinduism give government authorities reasons to be suspicious of it. Last year, a member of the ISKCON movement was arrested and fined for talking about his religious beliefs in the streets. Even before that, Hindu religious books were almost banned in Russia. Yoga itself suffered a severe setback when the owners of two popular “Hatha-Yoga” classes were ordered to cease their classes as yoga could “spread new religious cults and movements.”
The arrests, including that of Ugai, are made under the Yarovaya law. This law, named after the MP Irina Yarovaya, the brain behind this law, bans all forms of religious preaching and missionary activity in a bid to prevent terrorist activities. The law also intends to save people who are outside what the nation defines as “traditional religions” from being out under stress.
Ugai’s arrest came after accusations that he was using such festivals as platforms to spread the Hindu religion. However, he insists that although he was himself a Hindu, he never made a mention of any religion, much less ask the crowds to join Hinduism.
Head of the Moscow-based Sova Centre, Alexander Verkhovsky, denounced the arrest by saying that Ugai’s speech had absolutely nothing about it which should have made authorities feel he was asking them to join Hinduism. Sova is an organization that monitors the abuse of anti-extremism laws. He notes that under the law, missionary activity is defined as an action that involves inviting someone to join a particular religion. However, in this case, Yoga itself is not a religion. As such, the arrest was unfair.
The arrest has been condemned by many Russians, including public figures.