Christians in Russia fear that the newly signed "Yarovaya Law" will give authorities more power to suppress religious practices, much like the power that KGB used to repress activists in the Soviet era.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the Yarovaya Law, which has garnered criticism from people in and outside of Russia. The aspect of the law that is drawing negative reviews is the tighter restrictions on religious activities, especially of smaller congregations, Radio Free Europe notes.
Once of the critics of Russia's Yarovaya Law is U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom head Thomas J. Reese. In a statement issued last week, he slammed the legislation which he says will make it easier for authorities to repress religious activities and detain people. He said the new anti-terror law does not meet the international standards for human rights and religious liberty.
After the Soviet Union was broken up 25 years ago, many large religious faiths have flourished. However, the smaller groups — like the Protestants and the Jehovah's Witnesses — have been under the radar of state authorities for a long time.
Another controversial provision of the Yarovaya Law is the one which allows security agencies to access private messages and requires telecom firms to store communication data for six months and allow authorities to access these files.
In addition, the new legislation bans any kind of religious gatherings except in places officially recognized by the state. This would potentially put a restriction on house church gatherings. Christianity Today points out that people could be barred from e-mailing church invitations to their friends. Those who violate the law could face fines or be expelled from the country.
Mission News Network had earlier called for prayers to stop the bill because of its potential effect on evangelism in Russia. Now that Putin has already signed it, Joel Griffith of the Slavic Gospel Association said the call to prayer is still valid, and what happens next will depend on how the law is interpreted by the authorities.
Griffith urged Christians to continue praying for the believers in Russia. He also asked them to pray that the Yarovaya Law will not be implemented as strictly as it was written.