RUSSIA – First Christian leader arrested as new law banning evangelisation takes effect
The first Christian leader has been arrested in Russia following the passing of new anti-terrorism laws that ban evangelism outside of churches.
Sergei Zhuravlyov, a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior, was arrested recently while he was preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community. He was charged with violating a provision of the law that bans illegal missionary activity.
Although he was arrested ostensibly for evangelising there could well be a political element to his arrest. Zhuravlyov was also accused of “fomenting negative attitudes toward the Russian Orthodox Church,” and of having ties to the Ukrainian nationalist political party called Right Sector, which is banned in Russia. Ukraine and Russia remain in a state of conflict following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which led to violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in the eastern parts of Ukraine.
“This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church,” Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, said in July. “Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”
Those found guilty of violating the law, if Russian citizens, would face a fine of f $75 to $765, while organizations could be looking at fines of up to $15,265. The law also bans foreign missionaries from speaking at churches without permission from Russian authorities and foreigners found breaking the law would be deported.
Thousands of churches in Russia joined in prayer and fasting against the new law when it was announced in July. Although Putin claimed it was an anti-terrorism measure, the law also affects law-abiding Christians as it prohibits the sharing of faith in any place that is not a government-sanctioned house of worship.