Christian leader arrested under Russia's controversial law cracking down on evangelism, report says
Posted September 5, 2016
A Christian leader has reportedly been arrested in Russia under the country's controversial law curtailing evangelism, which took effect July 20.
The Moscow Times reported that Sergei Zhuravlyov, a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior, was arrested while preaching to the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community.
Zhuravlyov, who purportedly shared details of the case against him in an Aug. 27 blog post, was accused of having ties to an illegal organization as well as spreading hate speech, the outlet reported.
His activities, under Russia's highly contentious new law, purportedly violated the legislation's ban on missionary activity.
An unnamed law enforcement official reportedly told Interfax that Zhuravlyov was speaking out negatively about the Russian Orthodox Church and that he has ties to a political party that is banned in Russia, though more details about the case are not immediately known. Zhuravlyov was later released on bail.
As Deseret News National previously reported, Russia's law — which was purportedly intended to fight terror — also has other provisions, including a mandate requiring phone companies to store text messages and calls.
While it is true that the legislation, which was passed by both houses of the Federal Assembly of Russia and then signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, cracks down on terrorism — including tougher sanctions for those who justify terror via social media — critics say it also curtails religious freedom.
The law limits the locations where missionary work can be conducted, restricting such efforts to churches and other religious sites. Mission work must also be undertaken by people who are part of registered organizations.
If people or groups conduct missionary work in violation of these standards, fines reportedly range from $780 to $15,500, according to some sources.
The Christian Post reported, however, that these fines could range from $75 to $765 for a Russian individual and up to $15,265 for an organization, with those who are not citizens risking deportation.
There has been no shortage of warnings about the negative impact that critics believe the law will have on the faithful, with Great Commission Media Ministries, an international missions group, warning that it could "cripple" churches.
"This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church," Hannu Haukka, president of the missions group, said in a recent statement. "Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation."
He continued, "These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history."
Christianity Today warned after the law's passage that the restrictions include "laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings."
While the law bans proselytizing and sharing one's faith inside his or her home, it also hypothetically prevents Russians from emailing their friends an invitation to church, the outlet reported.
Conservative legal firm American Center for Law and Justice released a recent statement noting that its affiliated group in Russia, the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, is working on the ground to defend those who fall prey to the law.
And as previously reported, the enaction of the law led The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to move the location of its May 2017 summit intended to combat Christian persecution from Moscow to Washington, D.C.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan government coalition, condemned the law, warning that it gives the power to "curtail civil liberties" and makes it difficult for religious groups to practice.
Forum 18 News Service, a Christian site based in Norway, is reporting that at least six others in addition to Zhuravlyov have fallen prey to the new Russian law. While three have been fined, one was acquitted and two others have reportedly yet to see their cases head to court.
"In the first known case, a Baptist pastor was fined in Noyabrsk in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region," the outlet reported. "In cases in Tver and Oryol, two individuals — both foreign citizens legally resident in Russia — were heavily fined, but neither was ordered deported."
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