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August 2016

Charged and Convicted

On July 7, President Putin signed a new “anti-terrorism” law, which places many restrictions on missionary activity. The law took effect on July 20. We were not sure what to expect on the first Sunday after that, but we spent a lot of time studying the law and we consulted with attorneys in Moscow as we prayed for wisdom and safety. I told our people all about the law, and made it clear that we were sure that everything we did was legal. For three Sundays, we had meetings as usual, and there were no problems. I searched the news every week to see if any ministries in Russia were targeted by the new law. We began to think nothing was going to happen.

On August 14, about 15 minutes after our 11 am service began, three men came into our home. They were not wearing uniforms, but they showed me badges to identify themselves as policemen. I told them that we were busy, and I would talk to them if they would wait until our meeting was over. I invited them to stay for the service, which they did. They were there for some of the singing, the prayer time, and all of the sermon. Afterwards, they asked all of us questions for about 45 minutes, and wrote reports. I asked them if there had been any complaint against us, and they said no. Then they said I needed to go with them to the police station for routine fingerprints. At the station, they told me, “We lied. A complaint has been filed against you.” They did not take my fingerprints, but they wrote out documents charging me with two counts of illegal missionary activity under the new law.

It took them about three hours to finish writing the documents. I contacted the Moscow attorneys, and they told me to write on the paper that I did not agree that I had broken any laws. It is somewhat of a legal technicality, but the law as written only applies to registered religious organizations, so it does not regulate what we do.

After the paperwork was prepared, the police took me directly to a courthouse, where a judge held a hearing on my case. I was not allowed to have time to get my Moscow lawyers, but an attorney was appointed for me. The court proceedings took several hours, and in the end, the judge pronounced me guilty and sentenced me to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles, which is over $600. I was in police custody for about seven hours. They gave me ten days to file an appeal.

The court appointed lawyer told me that it is not safe for us to stay in Oryol. I think he was just trying to scare me away from appealing the charges, but I decided to send Ruth back to America right away. I have filed an appeal, and there will be a hearing on September 19th. I believe that the opportunity for us to serve here in Oryol is almost over, but if we can successfully appeal these charges, missionaries in other parts of Russia should be able to continue their ministries.

You can find the story in much more detail on my website, www.donossewaarde.com. Look for the link to the update page. Please pray for the court to decide the appeal in our favor.

In the service of the King,
Don Ossewaarde