Religious persecution is being ushered into Russia under the package of the new anti-terrorism laws which will go into effect on July 20, 2016. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation which was passed in the Duma, the Russian upper house, almost unanimously on Friday, and in the lower house, the Federation Council, late in June.
Although the Russian Protestant minority—”estimated around 1 percent of the population—prayed, fasted, and sent petitions to President Vladimir Putin,” the President ignored their voices and adopted the measure.
“Most evangelicals—leaders from all seven denominations—have expressed concerns,” Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia and a former Moscow church-planter, told CT. “They’re calling on the global Christian community to pray that Putin can intervene and God can miraculously work in this process.”
Opponents of the measure hope that the legislation will be repealed in court or that elected officials will amend the law.
The proposed laws, considered the country’s most restrictive measures in post-Soviet history, place broad limitations on missionary work, including preaching, teaching, and engaging in any activity designed to recruit people into a religious group.
To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.
How the legislation will be enforced is yet to be seen, but the religious persecution that will occur is inevitable.
Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and several other evangelical leaders called the law a violation of religious freedom and personal conscience in a letter to Putin posted on the Russian site Portal-Credo. The letter reads, in part:
The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions.
Under Stalin, religious restrictions included the outlawing of all religious activity that was other than Sunday services and only in registered churches. Parents were banned from teaching their faith to their children. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, this law remained in effect. It has resurfaced again in the form of the anti-terrorism measure.
How this new law will be implemented is yet to be seen and some question if the government will actually implement it fully, but others have a more grim perspective.
“I don’t think you can overestimate the Russian government’s willingness to exert control,” Aikman told Christianity Today. If history is any indication, the proposed regulations reveal a pattern of “creeping totalitarianism” in the country, he said.
The anti-evangelism law carries fines up to US $780 for an individual and $15,500 for an organization. Foreign visitors who violate the law face deportation.
The “foreign agent” law, which was adopted in Russia in 2012, demands that groups from abroad complete detailed paperwork on their activities, which is subject to government raids and audits. The result has been a shrinking of one-third of the NGO groups that once were a part Russia.
“In Moscow, we shared an office with 24 organizations. Not a single foreign expatriate mission is there now,” Rakhuba previously told CT. “They could not re-register. Missionaries could not return to Russia because they could not renew their visas. It is next to impossible to get registration as a foreign organization today.”
Christian persecution is on the rise world wide, and Russia is no stranger to killing Christians, like Ivan Moiseyev, or sending them to prison, as Richard Wurmbrand experienced under communism.
“They say, ‘If it will come to it, it’s not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith,’” he wrote. “The Great Commission isn’t just for a time of freedom.”
Source: Christianity Today