The Kremlin’s anti-terrorism laws have serious implications for biblical Christianity in Russia.
Christians in Russia have been praying and fasting after their government approved a series of anti-terrorism laws that will have serious repercussions on Christian worship and witness.
On 24 June, the Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) approved laws to curb missionary work, donating money to religious organisations and meeting together for worship outside ‘approved’ buildings.
The legislation, known as the Yarovaya Law — after Duma member Irina Yarovaya, who brought it forward, in response to October’s bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt — was approved by the upper chamber and signed by President Vladimir Putin in July.
Among other measures, the bill bans proselytising, preaching and praying outside officially recognised religious institutions. Even having an informal evangelistic conversation must be done with prior state authority, or the penalties will be severe.
The bill forces mobile phone and internet providers to store all communications data for six months and help security services decipher all messaging applications. It introduces a prison sentence of up to a year for ‘failure to report a terrorist act in the planning stages’.
Assault on freedom
While the law is primarily considered to be combating Islamic terrorist activity, it will clearly limit missionary activity and forbid many evangelical Christians from holding church services in their own premises. Services will only be allowed in recognised denominational buildings.
A letter from a Russian Christian church leader (who shall remain anonymous) says: ‘Most Christians are in small churches, which gather for worship in the people’s homes. Most churches do not have their own building to meet in. The law will also limit our freedom to distribute the gospel through the phone, television, radio, internet, audio, video, and in print. It will lead to restrictions on our freedom to send financial support for the Lord’s workers’.
According to the New York Times (NYT), while Russian lawmakers claim the measures are aimed at combating terrorism, human rights activists have condemned it as ‘an assault on freedoms of speech, privacy and conscience’; and Tanya Lokshina, the Russia programme director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), has called the bill ‘a set of legislative amendments that severely undermine freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and the right to privacy’.
In a statement, HRW wrote: ‘Even with some improvements, the Yarovaya Law will still severely curb people’s right to exercise free expression and other fundamental freedoms in Russia’.