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The proposed laws, considered the country’s most restrictive measures in post-Soviet history, place broad limitations on missionary work, including preaching, teaching, and engaging in any activity designed to recruit people into a religious group.
To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites.
Russia has already moved to contain foreign missionaries.
“I don’t think you can overestimate the Russian government’s willingess to exert control,” Aikman told CT.
If history is any indication, the proposed regulations reveal a pattern of “creeping totalitarianism” in the country, he said.
Because it defines missionary activities as religious practices to spread a faith beyond its members, “if that is interpreted as the Moscow Patriarchate is likely to, it will mean the Orthodox Church can go after ethnic Russians but that no other church will be allowed to,” according to Frank Goble, an expert on religious and ethnic issues in the region.
Russian nationalist identity remains tied up with the Russian Orthodox church.
The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.
This week, Russia’s Protestant minority—estimated around 1 percent of the population—prayed, fasted, and sent petitions to President Vladimir Putin, who will have to approve the measures before they become official.Protestants and religious minorities small enough to gather in homes fear they will be most affected.Last month, “the local police officer came to a home where a group of Pentecostals meet each Sunday," Konstantin Bendas, deputy bishop of the Pentecostal Union, told Forum 18.The amendments, including laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings, go into effect July 20.Though opponents to the new measures hope to eventually appeal in court or elect legislators to amend them, they have begun to prepare their communities for life under the new rules, reported Forum 18 News Service, a Christian outlet reporting on the region.Not a single foreign expatriate mission is there now,” Rakhuba previously told CT. Missionaries could not return to Russia because they could not renew their visas.