ORYOL, Russia (BP) – A Baptist missionary convicted under Russia’s new anti-evangelism law and compelled to end his ministry there has lost his first court appeal in Oryol, Russia, but has vowed to continue legally fighting for the cause of religious freedom.
An appeals court judge Sept. 30 upheld the conviction of Donald Ossewaarde on charges of conducting missionary activities in violation of the new law that prohibits evangelizing outside church walls and without a government permit.
“[My attorneys] assured me that this case will play an important role in determining the future of religious freedom in Russia, not just for foreign missionaries, but also for ordinary Russian believers,” Ossewaarde updated readers on his webpage. “My attorneys are confident that the law is on our side, and the courts must eventually rule in our favor if any impartial justice can still be found in Russia.”
The Independent Baptist missionary had been 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 fined 40,000 rubles, about $600, and advised by a court appointed attorney that anything might happen to his family while in Russia.
“I was hoping to wrap things up here and return to my family as soon as possible, but the issue is an important one, and duty demands that I press the case as far as I can,” Ossewaarde wrote on his website. “Obviously, [the judge’s decision] is a disappointment.”
The new law, which went into effect July 20, 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 contends. He and his wife Ruth had been sent on the mission field by Faith (Independent) Baptist Church in Bourbonnais, Ill., and had raised financial support from churches across the U.S., but do not represent an official religious organization.
He was arrested with five other ministers of various faiths and denominations within a month of the law’s passage. Fines were levied varying from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles, with only one man, a Hare Krishna, acquitted.