06/27/2016, 21.07
RUSSIA
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Duma approves anti-terrorism measures that "threaten religious freedom"

by Nina Achmatova

Protestant leaders and human rights activists slam Yarovaya’s laws, a package of measures that, among other things, make it nearly impossible to carry out processions and limit "missionary activities".

Moscow (AsiaNews) – On 23 June, Russia's State Duma approved a final draft of several anti-terrorist laws spearheaded by Irina Yarovaya, a Duma Member for the ruling United Russia party who chairs the lower house’s Security Committee. The new legislation includes major limitations on religious freedom.

Among Russia’s opposition media and human rights activists, these laws are seen as some of the “most repressive laws in post Soviet history”.

Dubbed the ‘Yarovaya law’ after its main sponsor, the legislation provides for fines of up to one million rubles for people involved in missionary activities that violate the law.

The latter includes spreading religious beliefs outside of places of worship and locations, including cemeteries and educational facilities, historically used for religious services. Missionary activity is not permitted in private flats and homes.

Under the legislation, which now needs Senate approval and President Vladimir Putin’s signature, anyone who engages in missionary activities on behalf of a religious group must be authorised and have a permit from their group.

This is seen as a de facto ban on public religious processions because every participant would de facto require a written permit.

Foreign nationals have the right to conduct missionary activities only in federal entities (for example, cities, regions) where of the Ministry of Justice has an office.

individuals who break the law could be fined from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles. Organisations could pay 100,000 to a million rubles.

Foreigners risk fines of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles, as well as expulsion from Russian territory.

Religious organisations that hand out written, audio or video material without a permit would also be punished.

For Tanya Lokshina, the Russia programme director for Human Rights Watch, the new legislation bans all religious activities outside authorised locations.

Some Protestant Churches in Russia wrote to Putin, complaining that Yarovaya’s amendments to the "Law on freedom of conscience and religious organisations violate human rights and fundamental liberties with regard to religious freedom."

The letter was posted on Portal-Credo, a Russian-language religious website. In it, the Churches note that the Russian Constitution guarantees the right to disseminate freely religious beliefs and convictions.

"The proposed changes limit believers’ religious private life," the signatories say (including Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Protestant Churches of Russia).

"The obligation on every believer to have a special permit to spread his or her beliefs, as well as hand out religious literature and material outside of places of worship and used structures is not only absurd and offensive, but also creates the basis for mass persecution of believers for violating these provisions,” the letter goes on to say.

"Soviet history shows us how many people of different faiths have been persecuted for spreading the Word of God", Protestant leaders note. "This law brings us back to a shameful past."

The letter ends with a direct appeal to the head of the Kremlin. "Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], on behalf of thousands of evangelical Protestants, we ask you not to allow this repressive and unconstitutional law to be adopted."

Yarovaya’s law entails imprisonment for "failure to report a crime" such as terrorist activities, coups or conspiracies against politicians.

It imposes life in prison for international terrorism and requires Russia’s telecoms, text-messaging firms and social media companies to store records message content for up to six months.

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