Court Postpones Appeal of American Pastor Charged under Russian Anti-Terror Law
Hearing Is Scheduled to Resume on September 30 for Further Testimony
9/26/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the appeal for Pastor Donald Ossewaarde, an American charged under Russia’s anti-terror law, has been scheduled to resume September 30 after his initial hearing took place on 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.
Court proceedings brought the attention of both local media and US Embassy officials who were present during the hearing. According to Pastor Ossewaarde’s blog, US Embassy officials visited him on September 18 to gather information about his ministry as well as the reasons for his original charge and fine.
Pastor Ossewaarde and his legal counsel from the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ) presented their case to the court while also hearing testimony from a police official present during the original arrest on August 14.
The presiding judge determined, after hearing testimony from both the police official and Pastor Ossewaarde, that the case be postponed until September 30 in order to provide time for further testimony from witnesses to the alleged illegal missionary activity.
“We were hoping for a positive ruling to have occurred yesterday [September 19],” Pastor Ossewaarde said in a recent conversation with ICC. “We believe we have the law on our side and a strong case moving forward.”
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.
Andrew Kerr, ICC’s Program Coordinator, stated, “While it is unfortunate the judge in the case determined more time was needed to decide upon a decision, it is encouraging to hear of the attention and progress of the case itself. ICC is very happy to hear of the State Department’s interest in Pastor Donald’s case and their willingness to send US Embassy officials to the proceedings. It shows the importance international religious freedom has within the State Department, especially among the International Religious Freedom Office and Ambassador-at-Large David Saperstein. We hope further attention will be given to Pastor Donald’s case both in Russia and the international community to show the unfortunate missteps of the Yarovaya laws and where reform is in desperate need to ensure religious freedom for all.”
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