Date: November 1, 2017
by Anneta Vyssotskaia RUSSIA: CONTINUING DETERIORATION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM For centuries Russia was known as a country persecuting people who chose to believe differently from what was prescribed by the ruling authorities. Being officially a Christian country for over 1000 years, for centuries it persecuted Old-believers who refused to accept the reforms introduced by the Russian Orthodox Church. Some Protestant confessions (like Baptists), spreading quickly during spiritual revival, were considered 'dangerous sects' and were severely persecuted by the State in the 19th Century. The leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church co-operated with the authorities in persecuting the sects. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, atheism was propagated at all levels, all religions were persecuted and many church leaders died as martyrs or spent decades in prison and labour camps. After the collapse of the communist ideology and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a short period of religious freedom and a big spiritual revival all across its former republics. Many people accepted Christ and were added to his Church. Even during that period of religious freedom, the new Protestant Churches experienced a lot of pressure and restrictions on their activities, especially evangelism and mission work. In 1997, a law on religion brought more restrictions and its preamble recognised the 'special contribution' of Russian Orthodoxy. Since then, religious freedom gradually worsened. In July 2016, the so-called Yarovaya Law, a package of counter-terrorism measures, was signed into law by President Putin. These counter-terrorism measures include prohibition of any mission activity outside church premises or other sites designated for religious purposes. Missionary activity is defined as: 'The activity of a religious association, aimed at disseminating information about its beliefs among people who are not participants (members, followers) in that religious association, with the purpose of involving these people as participants (members, followers). It is carried out directly by religious associations or by citizens and/or legal entities authorised by them, publicly, with the help of the media, the internet or other lawful means." (Forum 18, 8 July, 2016). Put simply, it bans any evangelism and missionary work and directly affects about three million Protestant Christians in Russia as well as believers of other religions. In August 2017, Forum 18 published a list of 193 cases of 'anti-missionary' punishment of individuals and religious communities since the Yarovaya Law came into force. The list includes Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Krishnaites and others. However, Protestant believers and churches are the majority of the list. The authorities seem to make the most active churches and their leaders the targets of persecution in their 'anti-missionary' attacks. A good example is the Evangelical Christian Church of Jesus Christ in Nizhny Tagil, which has had numerous raids and four cases opened against it under the Yarovaya Law. PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR: * changes in Russian legislation for religious freedom. * the Russian Orthodox Church to accept the right of freedom of belief for Russian people and not see other Christian denominations as a threat. * courage, wisdom and unity among other Christian Church leaders as they are targeted with persecution for the Gospel. * the teachings of Christ to continue spreading in Russia and change the country and people's lives for God's glory.