Wednesday, July 6, 2016

RLPB 364. Russia: anti-mission law looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 364 | Wed 06 Jul 2016

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by Elizabeth Kendal

Passed in the Duma (lower house) on 24 June and then rushed through the Federal Council (upper house) on 29 June -- the last day of sitting before the summer break -- a controversial package of 'anti-terror' laws now proceeds to the Kremlin. President Putin has two weeks to either sign it into law or return it to the parliament for reconsideration. The package was initiated by the head of the State Duma's Security and Anti-Corruption Committee, MP Irina Yarovaya, and her counterpart from the Federation Council (FC), Viktor Ozerov. Known as the 'Spring Package' or 'Yarovaya Law', the package expands the state's powers, tightens controls on and surveillance of citizens and limits many civil rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution. It is a heavy-handed response to an increased risk of Islamic terrorism at a time of elevated East-West geopolitical tensions.

Buried within the 'anti-terror' package are measures that would eviscerate religious freedom. Missionary activity -- defined so broadly as to mean essentially the sharing of beliefs -- would be limited to inside registered religious facilities by persons certified by a registered religious organisation. Missionary activity (sharing of beliefs) would be explicitly banned from residential areas and from the phone and internet. As noted by Forum 18, previous anti-mission bills, including those put forward in February and April by FC member, Igor Chernyshenko, stalled before reaching the Duma because they lacked government support. By adding the anti-mission measures to the anti-terror package which was then rushed through without consultation, debate or proper scrutiny, hard-line hostile elements have managed to slip the repressive measures through without opposition. Stratfor Intelligence reports: 'Though the legislation passed in both houses, many legislators are now claiming never to have seen the actual documents. Communist lawmakers complained going into the vote that they received drafts only hours before.' All that is required now is the President's signature.

However, a tsunami of opposition is rising against the 'anti-terror' package. Russian businesses, Russian churches, Russian human rights groups and even the President's own advisors are pressuring him not to sign. Russia's four top mobile operators have warned that elements of the bill are 'technically and economically impractical'. Russia's internet ombudsman, Dmitry Marnichev, has described the bill as a 'death sentence' for Russia's telecommunications. On 1 July Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, appealed directly to President Putin, arguing that the Duma had not taken the Human Rights Council's recommendations into consideration and that the amendments restricting sharing beliefs were excessive, repressive, unconstitutional and legally uncertain. The Presidential Council wants to see the anti-missionary measures separated from the anti-terror measures and permitted to go through a full debate procedure as a separate bill. Meanwhile, Russian Jewish, Muslim and a multitude of Christian organisations and denominations are protesting the measures and penning appeals to the President for his consideration. Across Russia, many churches and denominations are engaging in prayer and fasting.

Oleg Goncharov is a leader in the Adventist Church, the co-chair of a council of Protestant churches in Russia, and a member of a Kremlin advisory council on religious organisations. He says that whilst the churches support government efforts to combat extremism and terrorism, the section on missionary activity goes too far. 'The adoption of this legislation would put hundreds of thousands of believers from various denominations in a very difficult position,' he said. He also asserts that the bill's rapid introduction and approval in just three days violated federal law by bypassing required discussions with a State Duma committee on religious organisations and with representatives of religious organisations that would be directly affected by the bill. Goncharov has appealed to President Putin, urging him to return the legislation to the State Duma for revision. 'We continually pray for you, dear Mr President,' he said, 'as well as for all state authorities.'

'First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.' (1Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)


* fill Russia's Christian leaders with 'the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so [they might] walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. [May they be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy [and thankfulness].' (From Colossians 1:9-14 ESV)

* intervene in the Russian political process, so that lawmakers will resist the temptation to legislate in reactionary ways, and/or to be lazy, corrupt or belligerent as they serve in high office; may consciences be sharpened, eyes enlightened and hearts softened.

* guide President Putin to make wise and right choices that serve the nation's spiritual interests. 'The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.' (Proverbs 21:1 ESV) May the 'anti-terror' package be returned to the parliament where the anti-mission measures can be subjected to a thorough debate and proper scrutiny under a media spotlight!

* take this wicked attempt to silence the Church, and redeem it as a means by which the door is opened for public testimony concerning the richness of the wisdom of God and the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Having passed in the Duma (lower house) and the Federal Council (upper house), a controversial package of 'anti-terror' laws now proceeds to the Kremlin. President Putin has two weeks either to sign it into law or return it to the parliament for reconsideration. Buried within the 'anti-terror' package are anti-mission measures that would eviscerate religious freedom. Whilst previous anti-mission bills have stalled due to lack of government support, these measures passed because they were inserted into an 'anti-terror' package which was then rammed through parliament without debate. A tsunami of opposition has arisen from Russian businesses, churches, human rights organisations and even the President's own advisors. May God guide President Putin to choose in the nation's spiritual interests. Please pray for Russia and its Christians. (Proverbs 21:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-4)


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).