First American missionary caught by anti-evangelism law


Religiia i Pravo, 23 August 2016


On 14 August 2016 a judge of the Zheleznodoroga district court of the city of Orel issued a ruling in the case of an administrative violation of law with respect to citizen Donald Jay Ossewaarde, who was accused of conducting illegal missionary activity. The judge found the American guilty and sentenced him to a fine.


The problem is not in the fine itself, which consists of a bit more than $700, but in the fact that the judge actually ruled the right of Donald Jay Ossewaarde freely to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ in accordance with his convictions to be illegal activity.


It is noteworthy that Donald was arrested in his own apartment, to which police personnel had come in order to register "the fact of an illegal meeting of a group," which had gathered in the American's own apartment for prayer and reading the Bible. In court Donald also was accused of illegally pasting up an announcement which indicated that those wishing to study Sacred Scripture may come to his home for studying together.


The court actually considered that the American citizen, who according to Russian laws has the very same rights as Russians, was guilty of not notifying authorities in writing about the start of the activity of his own "religious group."


In court, Donald was denied an attorney, but later he was granted one "for  kfree," who in a "confidential conversation" advised him to admit his guilt, and then he said that it would be better for the American to leave the city altogether, since anything could happen to him and his family.


At the present time, Donald's family is in the USA and he himself is ready to defend his innocence before Russian justice, as he is so sure that the law is on his side and he is the victim of an incorrect application of the law and possibly of xenophobia.


Donald's lawyers from the advocates bureau of the Slavic Legal Center, Vladimir Riakhovsky and Konstantin Andreev, are also sure that Donald's case will be reviewed. An appeal already has been filed against the judge's ruling and a hearing on the case will be held in the near future. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 August 2016)



by Roman Lunkin

Religiia i Pravo, 23 August 2016


Within the framework of public discussion of the Yarovaya Law, experts have supposed that every one of its provisions, even the most absurd, are aimed at the struggle with terrorism. Such an impressions was created on national television, where the topic of evangelism in this law is not dealt with at all. However after the Yarovaya Law took effect on 20 July, the worst fears of believers have been justified.


Christian churches and movements are under attack, which had been accustomed to speak freely about God and to gather freely in private homes and apartments. Many of these societies or groups could possibly be registered officially, but they have not wanted to do this. Leaders of societies and missionaries have not wanted to put themselves under the control of authorities and to suffer from strict accountability (few of whom have the means in order to follow all of this and hire lawyers and accountants). In July 2015 amendments to the law on freedom of conscience signaled the possibility, but not the obligation, to give notification of activity on the part of religious groups. Now with the Yarovaya Law an instrument for actually liquidating many unrecorded Christian societies has appeared (hitherto there has been a special approach on the part of special services toward Muslim groups).


On 14 August 2016, in accordance with a police report about administrative violation of law, an American missionary, Donald Osserwaard, a citizen of the USA from the state of Michigan, was fined 40,000 rubles in the city of Orel. The issue was that vigilant citizens or precinct police noticed that invitations had been pasted on bulletin boards in one of the districts of Orel for all who wished for a Bible group for study of the Bible, which the Baptist Osserwaarde conducts on Sundays.


As the preacher and leader of the groups notes himself, "I am an American and a Baptist, and I have been engaged in independent missionary works since 2002 in the city of Orel. (Although according to the new law it is impossible to consider my activity to be missionary activity, since I am not a representative of any religious association.) We have a small group, 15 persons. We gather in my own private home. I have had a residence permit since 2005."


On 12 August three police officers came to a regular Bible study. After the meeting they put to him a whole series of questions and they took the American to the police department, where a police report was drawn up. The Baptist said that the main charges consisted of the fact that he pasted up announcements and then gathered in a private home.


On the police report the American citizen wrote: "I, Ossewaarde, Donald Jay, categorically do not agree that I violated the law, since I did not paste the invitations on buildings 22 or 24 on Pushkin Street. I am not the representative of a religious association and therefore I could not be engaged in missionary activity as defined in federal law No. 125. I gathered with friends in my private home and this was an affair of a private individual in a private home and it does not violate the law. I complain that I have been unjustly accused."


As attorney Vladimir Riakhovsky notes, in reality according to legislation the Baptist Donald cannot be considered the leader of a religious group. In this case, according to the Russian constitution, Donald was professing and disseminating his own personal views and convictions. Reading and studying the Bible in an apartment is a part of the rituals and religious ceremonies on Sundays, and worship services in residences are permitted by the law on freedom of conscience. In addition, what is most important is that only a group of people who have notified agencies of local government about their existence can be considered a religious group in the sense of the law. Since the meeting of people who were studying the Bible had not done this and were not a group, then they could not in principle issue a permit in the name of the group to the Baptist Donald.


However the judge in the Zheleznodoroga district court of the city of Orel, I.I. Sergunina, decided that study of the Bible in an apartment cannot be considered a simple personal confession of faith. During the judicial proceedings it was explained that the American had not pasted up the announcements but he still put them into mail boxes.


Explanations that believers must give justifying themselves within the provisions of the Yarovaya Law often sound like a violation of all common sense, but it will be necessary to get used to this. For example, the resolution says: "He did not register his activity since he is not engaged in missionary activity."


The judge decided that the American citizen violated part 5 of article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Violations of Law, provided by part 4, that is "Conduct of missionary activity with violation of the requirements of legislation on freedom of conscience, freedom of religious confession, and on religious associations." In the resolution there is reference also to article 7 of the law on freedom of conscience, which gives a broad definition of a religious group as a voluntary association of citizens functioning without registration and the rights of a legal entity. This means that the judge considered it to be a violation of law that the leader of the group evangelizes among people who are not members of the group. Worship services with an invitation to all comers are conducted on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. And the presence or absence of a notification about the activity of the group the judge considered to be the de facto existing group's own omission.


Thus the ruling clearly stated that Osserwaarde's guilt is considered proven, since he "conducted missionary activity without notification in written form about the start of the activity of a religious group." The judge did not determine extenuating circumstances. The ruling imposing a fine of 40,000 rubles on the American citizen is being appealed at the present time.


From this case it is clearly seen that the new legislation has placed believers in the position of defending themselves and guilty. While the defense in the light of the definition of evangelism in the law often sounds absurd. In reality, believers must say that giving out literature on the street is not missionary activity. It was this that the Krishnaite in Cherkessk managed to prove. And the invitation to study of the Bible led by a Baptist preacher is also not a mission. The main thing is that Christians do not really believe this. Cases similar to the Orel one have already arisen around the activity of Christian religious groups in Tver and Marii El. Police and judges are just developing a taste for the missionary case. (tr. by PDS, posted 24 August 2016)

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