Protestant lawyers' interpretation of anti-evangelism law loses in court


by Stanislav Kulov

Religiia i Pravo, 3 October 2016


On 30 September in Orel provincial court the consideration of the appeal against the decision of the Zheleznodoroga district court of the city of Orel, holding American citizen Donald Jay Ossewaarde administratively accountable on the basis of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF, concluded.


Judge Safronova left the decision of the court of the first instance without change and the appeal of Donald Ossewaarde without satisfaction.


We recall, the American citizen with a residence permit in the Russian federation was fined in accordance with point 5 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law of the RF, which was introduced by the so-called "Yarovaya Law," and on 19 September hearings on the appeal of American citizen Donald Jay Ossewaarde in the Orel provincial were postponed for calling witnesses and their giving evidence.


The witnesses appeared in the session for giving evidence, one of whom, a resident of Orel, who visited Donald Ossewaarde sometimes for joint reading of the Bible, explained to the court that Donald did not represent any religious organization or group, but he received hospitably every person who wished to delve into the essence of biblical texts.


Another witness in the case was a vigilant citizen, Anna Bakaeva, who wrote a request to the police regarding examination of the activity of Donald Ossewaarde, and who, among other things, turned out to be a member of the youth government of Orel province, the double of the governor for security. Responding to the judge's questions, Bakaeva explained that it was her civic duty and she was unable not to write the request. She knows the Yarovaya law and was unable to subject citizens to danger. To be sure, she was unable to explain what kind of danger threatened citizens as the result of others exercising their constitutional rights and liberties.


"I came to Russia 14 years ago because I knew that Russia, after many years of atheism and control of religious liberty, finally had become a democratic country, where each person may freely disseminate his faith. I always wanted for people to know that Jesus Christ died for them and that God loves them," Donald Ossewaarde explained to the judge. "I am a law-abiding citizen and I never had the desire to violate Russian law, and if I knew that it is forbidden to spread my faith here, I would immediately leave Russia."


The defense of Donald Ossewaarde was conducted by a team of lawyers of the Slavic Legal Center: Attorney Vladimir Riakhovsky, administrative partner and member of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights of the presidential administration of the RF; Attorney Konstantin Andreev; and Attorney Stanislav Kulov.


The defense more than adequately explained its position, presenting to the court detailed explanations understandable not only by a lawyer but also by a citizen without special education.


In the opinion of attorney Vladimir Riakhovsky, nobody can be held administratively accountable for conducting missionary activity in the name of a religious association if such an association does not exist in the first place. The requirement of the law to notify an agency of registration about the start of the activity of a religious group engenders a right of citizens and not an obligation. The lawyer stressed that in order to understand missionary activity, both the court and law enforcers must proceed not from personal notions about missionaries but from the definition established by the legislature in article 24.1 of the law "On freedom of conscience. . .," in accordance with which missionary activity is the activity of a religious association.


Attorney Konstantin Andreev called the court's attention to the fact that the Russian constitution, in article 28, guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom of religious confession to each person, which includes the right individually or jointly with others to hold and to disseminate religious convictions.


However, in the opinion of an officer of law enforcement agencies of the city of Orel, Filiushkin, in order to disseminate their religious views, citizens and legally resident foreigners must have a written response from the Ministry of Justice saying that so-and-so is permitted to disseminate his religious views. Without examining the law, the police had hastened to apply new standards. The lack not only of understanding of the law but also of any knowledge in the area of freedom of conscience and the constitution speaks only of the triumph of legal nihilism.


In her decision, Judge Safronova quoted profusely Russian legislation and excerpts from the constitution and laws of the Russian federation, while several important parts of legal regulations were omitted by the judge, possibly inadvertently and possibly intentionally.


Judge Safronova considered that the court of the first instance correctly established the facts and circumstances of the case and determined Donald Ossewaarde's guilt. And that the most clear and understandable explanations of the attorneys were not at all a legal position but a subjective assessment of the standards of the law. During the presentation of the attorneys one got the impression that the judge understood everything quite well and even agreed with the opinion of the defense, but she was not able to make a different decision because of something or, perhaps, someone.


One of the citizens in attendance said to his companion after the session, in the corridor of the court: "They say in Orel region, Orelites will not offend their own and an Orel court never will offend its own police, but here's an American alien—have at it," And that's how it came out.


Besides fellow believers who came to support Donald, there were reporters, representatives of the American embassy, and sect fighters who came to observe, and it was no accident that representatives of one of the departments of the FSB overseeing activity of religious organizations also appeared. In general it is evident from this whole case that Orel bureaucrats, government workers, and law enforcers are sincerely trying to strengthen the security of citizens through fighting sects and "enemies of Russia." However by such incompetent work they only threaten inter-confessional peace and inter-ethnic unity, which are a part of the policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Donald Ossewaarde and his defense attorneys intend to appeal the decision and they are prepared to go both to the Supreme Court and to the European Court for Human Rights. (tr. by PDS, posted 3 October 2016)

Background articles:
First American missionary caught by anti-evangelism law
August 23, 2016
Guide to anti-evangelism law prepared by lawyers
August 21, 2016
Protestant law center further explains approach to new law
August 14, 2016

Protestant law center plans approach to implementation of restrictive law
August 4, 2016

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