Christians in Russia have spoken out against a new law which some have called an ‘anti-missionary bill’.
The new law has been described by some as ‘the most draconian anti-religion bill to be proposed in Russia since Nikita Khrushchev promised to eliminate Christianity in the Soviet Union’, while another critic claimed that, ‘Even the Soviet Union did not have such an overwhelmingly repressive legislation’.
The new law, known more commonly as the ‘Yarovaya’ law (the name of one of its authors) was signed into law on 7 July by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Officially, it is described as an ‘anti-terrorism’ measure as it allows the government to monitor extremist groups. But its biggest impact may be upon Russia’s Christians. Missionaries will need a permit to operate, and the ‘house churches’ will be deemed illegal, as religious activity will only be allowed to take place inside registered buildings, such as churches. Maximum fines amount to the equivalent of around £600 for individuals or £11,000 for organisations.
The law is unlikely to affect the Russian Orthodox Church, to which some 70% of Russians (and 90% of ethnic Russians) subscribe, but it will affect all other evangelical groups and denominations, including Protestants (1% of the population).
‘BACK TO A SHAMEFUL PAST’
Prominent Christian groups have spoken out against the bill.
The Baptist Council of Churches claimed that the authors of the bill did not ask for the views of those who are the most affected by the new amendments and that the law violates the constitutional right to freedom of belief.
The group stated: “[It will] create conditions for the repression of all Christians … Any person who mentions their religious views or reflections out loud or puts them in writing, without the relevant documents, could be accused of ‘illegal missionary activity’ and subjected to a heavy fine.”
Another letter, signed by, Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia, amongst others, stated: “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. Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God. This law brings us back to a shameful past.”
‘MANY BELIEVERS WILL FIND THEMSELVES IN EXILE’
Sergey Rakhuba of Mission Eurasia called the bill ‘the most draconian anti-religion bill to be proposed in Russia since Nikita Khrushchev promised to eliminate Christianity in the Soviet Union’.
“For years we have watched as huge changes take place in Russia under the increasingly dictatorial rule of President Putin and his administration,” he said. “Freedom of religion represents a threat to the current political agenda in Russia. Today, few—if any—foreign Christian mission groups have an official presence in Russia, having been pushed out by anti-evangelical regulations.”
Oleg Goncharov, a member of Kremlin Advisory Council on Religious Organisations and co-chair of Protestant Churches in Russia says, “It is impossible for believers to comply with the requirements not to express their religious beliefs and to be silent even in their own homes as required by the legislation… The religious situation in the country will grow considerably more complicated and many believers will find themselves in exile and subjected to reprisals because of our faith.”
Gennady Gudkov, opposition leader in the Russian parliament, said, “This is an absolutely draconian law; even the Soviet Union did not have such an overwhelmingly repressive legislation. This is 100 per cent a step toward an Iron Curtain.”