Russia: Continuing Deterioration of Religious Freedom


Date:  November 1, 2017

by Anneta Vyssotskaia


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.  


* 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.  

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