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Russian anti-evangelism law victim requests prayer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Sept. 14.

ORYOL, Russia (BP) — A Baptist missionary who ended his ministry in Russia after being arrested under a new anti-evangelism law is requesting prayer in advance of his Sept. 19 appeal hearing.

Donald Ossewaarde was found guilty and fined 40,000 rubles, about $600, a month ago when Russian police interrupted a Sunday Bible study in his home, charging him with evangelizing outside church walls and without a government permit.

“Please pray that these charges will be dropped,” Ossewaarde pleads in the latest update on his webpage. “My attorneys and I were a little bit suspicious that they [Russian legal authorities] might try to rush the appeal through the system without letting us know about it, and deny us the right to present our case. My attorneys from Moscow will be coming here for the hearing.”

Ossewaarde was charged Aug. 14 under Article 5.26, Part 5 of the new religion law for holding religious services in his home, advertising services on bulletin boards in nearby neighborhoods, and failing to give authorities written notification when he began his religious activities.

He was advised to pay the fine on the advice of court appointed attorneys, but filed an appeal after securing private counsel. Ossewaarde has not paid the fine and does not intend to pay it unless he loses his appeal, he told BP today (Sept. 14).

His wife Ruth Ossewaarde, who had served as a missionary with him in Oryol, Russia since 2002, has already returned to their home congregation of Faith (Independent) Baptist Church near Bourbonnais, Ill., after the couple received what Ossewaarde called a thinly veiled threat against their lives.

Ossewaarde believes he is innocent under the law passed July 20 — which he said is inappropriately written to achieve Russia’s desired result of ending evangelism — but said he cannot trust that the law will be applied as written, nor that his constitutional right to freedom of religion will be honored.

“The new law is blatantly unconstitutional, but the president signed it, so constitutionality is not our strongest defense in this case,” Ossewaarde wrote on his website. “Our appeal is based on the fact that I did not act as an authorized representative of a registered religious association, therefore I did not break THIS law. In other words, under the current legal and political situation, I can only continue being a missionary here by trying as hard as I can to prove in court that I am not a missionary.”

The law defines illegal evangelism as activity by an authorized representative of an officially registered religious organization who uses media to publicly spread the organization’s doctrine to non-members to convince them to join the group, Ossewaarde wrote on his website.

Ossewaarde said he plans to return to Illinois after the hearing.

He was arrested with five other ministers of various faiths and denominations within a month of the law’s passage. They were levied fines varying from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles, with only one man, a Hare Krishna, acquitted.

Read Baptist Press’ previous article here.