It is now illegal to preach, teach or share faith outside state-controlled settings. People who break the law could face fines of £600, while organisations could be made to pay £12,000.
Russian officials insist the law exists to tackle terrorism and is aimed at Islamic hate preaching. But senior Protestant Church leader in Russia, Sergei Ryakhovsky, said the law ‘creates the basis for the mass persecution of believers’.
Sergey Vdovin from the Russian Evangelical Alliance said he had considered leaving the country because of the new law.
He told Premier: ‘I thought of it and I prayed for three days and I said: “Well, who will live and pray and preach here?” So I’m staying here no matter what and the Lord is greater than anything people can do, so if you’re under his protection what can people do to you?’
Writing on the Premier Christianity blog, Tom Hardie from Release International said: ‘Imagine I invite you
round to my Christian home group and send a confirmation email. I will have broken the law – twice – and be subject to a fine...Talking about my beliefs in a public space will be deemed as illegal missionary activity. I am now, in the eyes of the law, as much a threat to society as a terrorist!
‘We must wait to see exactly how the law is implemented, but it seems the door has started to close on a 50-year respite in state control. It’s possible that Russia is reverting to Soviet-style authoritarianism once again.’
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was due to hold its World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians conference in Moscow in May 2017, but has moved it to Washington DC following the news.