From APD, July 12, 2016: President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed legislative amendments to the law on “missionary activity” last week, according to Forum 18, the respected human rights organization based in Norway. The tightening of restrictions is intended to combat Islamic extremist terrorism but it may also limit the sharing of beliefs by Adventists and other Christian groups.
The new amendments will come into force on July 20. It provides that religious beliefs may be presented only at defined places and only among defined groups, not in public or private homes. Penalties were also increased for “extremism.” Human rights lawyers are preparing complaints to appeal the law in Russia’s Constitutional Court, reported Forum 18.
The signing of the amendments by President Putin has resulted in wide condemnation in Russia, the human rights organization said. “Today is a black day,” said lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice. The hope that Putin would not sign the law proved disappointing.
“The law contradicts quite directly the command of Christ to ‘go and make disciples’ and also violates the constitutional right of citizens,” said the civil rights lawyer. He stated that the amendments had been written by people “who are not professionals and absolutely do not understand religious practices.”
As Adventist Today has previously reported, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in Russia was among several religious organizations that appealed to Putin to veto the legislation that came from parliament. It is unclear what Adventist leaders will do not, but human rights experts were preparing to advise individuals and religious communities as to how they would have to behave to not violate the strict new conditions, stated Forum 18. Some Protestant church leaders have stated that a good Christian cannot fulfill some of the restrictions in the new law.
Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of public affairs and religious liberty for the denomination’s General Conference, has discussed the legislation with leaders in the Russian parliament, according to a report published in the Adventist Review on Friday. “The real issue is … the interpretation of proselytism,” he told the official denominational journal. It noted that Adventist leaders are concerned that the new measure would outlaw home churches and the distribution of religious literature.
Contrary to international human rights obligations, the new amendments to the religion law restrict those who may teach their faith to state-registered religious organizations. The Seventh-day Adventist denomination is registered with the government although some Baptist groups decided in the past to function without state permission.
The new amendments prohibit the informal exchange of views on religious questions or making personal comments, in the view of Forum 18. The new law also restricts the locations where religious activities may take place, including residential buildings or on the grounds of a religious building. Another section expressly prohibits changing residential property to religious use.
APD is the Adventist news service in Europe. This new bulletin was supplied to Adventist Today in the German language. Additional information was obtained directly from Forum 18 in English.