Pastor Charged and Fined for Conducting Worship Service in Home
9/9/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Independent Baptist Pastor Donald Ossewaarde has been granted his request for an appeal scheduled for September 19 in Oryol, Russia. He is the first American citizen charged under Russia’s new “anti-terror” or “Yarovaya” laws which place new restrictions on individuals’ and organizations’ abilities to freely practice their religious beliefs.
Pastor Ossewaarde was levied a fine of 40,000 Rubles ($621 USD) under Russia’s controversial Yarovaya laws after he was sentenced for conducting “rituals and ceremonies” associated with religious activities without proper authorization. The punishment for foreign nationals under the law stands at a fine between 30-50,000 Rubles and potential deportation. The laws, which have been labeled by the faith community as the “anti-missionary” laws, restrict the activity of missionaries and other faith-based individuals.
The appeal comes despite his court appointed legal counsel advising against such action following his August 14 court hearing. His primary lawyer was not able to attend the August 14 hearing as the court in Oryol did not provide adequate time for him to travel from Moscow.
“The great majority of Russians identify with the Russian Orthodox church, even if they seldom or never attend services. The Orthodox faith is considered a part of their history, culture, tradition, and national identity,” Pastor Ossewaarde told ICC. “Many Russians say that to follow another religion is somewhat unpatriotic, especially if the religion has a foreign origin.”
He continued to say that religious minorities, like Baptist groups, are “looked at with suspicion” with the majority in support of restrictions, while minority groups continue to advocate for the protection of civil rights.
Since the law’s implementation on July 20, five Christians and one member of the Hare Krishna movement have been charged under the Yarovaya laws.
Since the beginning of 2016, there has been a rise in anti-religious sentiment from state authorities in Russia which has only increased since the passage of the Yarovaya laws. In June of 2016, the Oryol provincial court ruled the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be extremists and banned them from practicing in the region. A Jewish affiliated non-profit in Cherepovets was recently dissolved by a Russian court for having “foreign” affiliations, and deportation of Mormon missionaries stands at six in 2016.
Andrew Kerr, ICC’s Regional Manager for Central Asia, stated, “It is good news to hear that Pastor Ossewaarde has been granted a date for his appeals hearing. It shows that he has a strong enough case in the eyes of the judge toward overturning the fine levied on him for the alleged violation of the Yarovaya Laws. We hope for a positive outcome in his hearing and pray that it begins to open the eyes of Russian lawmakers that the law in question not only denies the freedom of Pastor Ossewaarde, but of many Russian citizens among the numerous religious minorities that call Russia home.”
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