American Missionary’s Case Reaches Russian Supreme Court

ICC Note:

Don Ossewaarde’s case will be taken to the Russian Supreme Court, ideally within the coming months. In 2016, Ossewaarde was charged with violating Russia’s Yarovaya law that enforced stringent requirements on missionaries and evangelism. Ossewaarde’s case reaching the highest levels of the judicial process is a positive indication of having the law reviewed or even amended to relieve (or remove) its strong impositions. A Supreme or Constitutional Court trail could have a fundamental impact on the law’s application, thereby affecting the religious liberties of Christians groups and individuals within Russia. 

01/26/2017 Russia (Christianity Today) – One Sunday morning in August, three policemen came to Don Ossewaarde’s home in Russia, where the Baptist missionary from Illinois was holding his weekly Bible study.

“Afterwards, they took me to the police station and charged me with conducting missionary activities in violation of a new law that took effect on July 20, 2016,” Ossewaarde wrote. “At a court hearing, I was found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles, which is over $600.”

Ossewaarde was snagged by Russia’s new anti-terrorism law that President Vladimir Putin approved last summer. The “Yarovaya law” calls for tighter restrictions on missionaries and evangelism, and has resulted in at least 32 prosecutions since it went into effect in July.

But now that law might be getting a second look.

Ossewaarde appealed his case three times, and has worked his way up to Russia’s Supreme Court, where his attorneys hope the case will be heard in the next few months. He also plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court; if judges accept the case, the consequences could be immense.

“This makes Ossewaarde’s case the first under the ‘anti-missionary’ amendment to reach this level in the Russian courts, and the first to issue a challenge to the legislation itself,” Forum 18 reported. “The Constitutional Court, if it accepts the appeal, will examine whether the amendment contravenes the provisions of the Russian Constitution.”

It wouldn’t be the only review. Last week, a working group created by the Duma, Russia’s legislative assembly, began to review the Yarovaya law, reported the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin. Putin conceded in September during elections that the unpopular law may need to be “adjusted to not put people in a difficult position.”

Those difficult positions include:

  • being charged for not using a church’s full name on phone bills.
  • allowing children onto a playground within hearing distance of sermons.
  • handing out New Testaments on a train.

All are accusations that have been made against Protestants under the new law, reported Forum 18 in its analysis of all cases thus far.

Officially, the Yarovaya law requires missionaries to have permits, makes house churches illegal, and limits religious activity to registered church buildings, among other restrictions. Individuals who disobey can be fined up to $780, while organizations can be fined more than $15,000.

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