Human Angle

Russia: Misuse of anti-terrorism legislation limits freedom of expression

Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2016 approved a package of anti- terrorism laws that ushered in tighter restrictions on missionary activity and evangelism in the country. Despite objections and protests from religious leaders and human rights advocates, the Kremlin went ahead with the passage of the laws. The amendments include laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, took effect in July of the same year.

Though opponents to the new measures eventually appealed in court and through elected legislators to amend them, they have not been successful. Protestants and religious minorities small enough to gather in homes were concerned they will be most affected. And true to the provisions of the law, Christians in parts of Russia started to experience the harsh challenges of the law. Understand how this law affected foreign missionaries in the same year of its passage:

Since the breakup of the communist Soviet Union 25 years ago, a law was passed in 1997 officially naming Orthodox Christianity, along with Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, as the country’s four “traditional” faiths. These religions receive funding from the government. The Roman Catholic Church have also been allowed to operate openly and largely without restrictions, though the Vatican and Russian Orthodox leaders have clashed in the past over ownership of church property dating back to the Bolshevik Revolution. But that’s a discussion for another day. In the end times, there is gospel that is supposed to reach all nations and then the end will come. This gospel has since reached the shores of Russia and continues to grow unhindered in the country.

However, denominations with a smaller presence in Russia, the so called protestants or Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have long been viewed with hostility from state officials and religious authorities, and many have long complained the 1997 law set up registration and administrative procedures that were onerous and expensive to comply with. After September 11, Russia went to great lengths to link the war in Chechnya that it was involved in to the global campaign against terrorism.

On September 12, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that America and Russia had a “common foe” because “Bin Laden” people are connected with the events currently taking place in our Chechnya,” and that the events in Chechnya “could not be considered outside the context of counter-terrorism,” as he glossed over the political aspects of the conflict. With Covid19 lockdown regulations also came stricter application of laws related to human liberties and religious liberties were not left out.

Under the guise of Covid19, Russia passed controversial constitutional amendments, including allowing President Vladimir Putin to run again for two more six-year presidential terms, that were ultimately approved in a plebiscite. A widespread crackdown on dissenting voices followed, with several new criminal cases and politically motivated raids, detentions, and prosecutions against opposition figures, civic activists, and organizations. Prosecution under the “undesirable organizations” and “foreign agents” laws were used to further intimidate activists, while new draft “foreign agents” legislation, which introduces new, oppressive restrictions, was submitted to parliament.

Hilary Panashe.

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