By Bob Lunt
In July President Putin of Russia signed into law a bill which includes many clauses that are strongly anti-Christian. The bill is primarily aimed at anti-terrorist activities but imposes draconian restrictions on religious freedom. Protestant Christians fear the new law will be chiefly enforced as a weapon against them but not used against the Orthodox Church, which Mr Putin has favoured in the past.
The law requires any sharing of the Christian faith, even a casual conversation, to have prior authorisation from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer are allowed only if there are no unbelievers present.
Churches are held accountable for the activities of their members. So if, for example, a church member mentions their faith in conversation with a work colleague, not only the member but also the church itself could be punished, with individuals facing fines of up to 50,000 roubles (£580). There are also restrictions on the extent to which churches can have contact with foreigners; for example, any non-Russian citizen attending a church service will be required to have a work visa or face a fine and expulsion from the country.
Of the six people so far charged under the new laws, four are Christians, and to date all four have been found guilty.
On 20 July, the day the legislation came into force, officials raided a Christian children’s camp in Noyabrsk in Siberia and charged a Russian pastor with “the conducting of missionary activity”. He was found guilty and fined 5,000 roubles (around £58). Another Russian pastor is being prosecuted for the same offence for speaking on stage at a local festival.
A believer from Ghana living in Moscow was charged for holding Christian meetings and using the pool at a sanatorium for baptisms at weekends. He was fined the maximum 50,000 roubles. A U.S. citizen was prosecuted for allegedly advertising that he was holding religious services in his home. Police interrupted a Sunday meeting at his house in Oryol on 14 August. He was immediately charged and taken to a police station and then to court, where a judge found him guilty in just over two hours.
Sources: Barnabas Fund; Forum 18