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August 14, 2016 - Charged and convicted
Church starts every Sunday promptly at 11 am with a congregational song. We have prayer time, announcements, a memory verse, and more songs.
Three policemen came into the house while we were singing. They did not knock on the door or ring the bell; they just walked in. They wanted to ask questions, but I told them they would have to wait until after the service. I invited them to stay for the service. They were there for singing and the entire sermon.
After the service, they asked questions for about 45 minutes. They talked to all the people, too, and wrote reports. They said they needed a complete package of documents on us just in case any questions arise. I asked if there had been any complaints against me. They said no.
They said we needed to go to the police station for routine fingerprints. Ruth and I got in their car and they drove us to the station. It was raining. I went with them into the office, behind the locked door, while Ruth waited in the front waiting area. They scanned my fingers and checked the database for any criminal history. They asked a few more questions, and then they said, "We lied, there is a complaint against you." They began writing a ticket to charge me with breaking the law. I called the lawyers, and they said to write on the ticket that I categorically disagree that I broke the law. They promised to help me if it goes further.
Ruth was out in the waiting room. I called her phone and told her to walk out of the police station immediately and not come back. I told her to turn right and follow the path until she came to the train station. There she found a taxi to pick her up and take her home. I told her to lock the door and not open it for anybody.
I had been in the police station for two and a half hours while they filled out paperwork. I was charged with the crime of breaking the new religion law, which is a matter for the federal court. There were two charges against me:
1) I was accused of gluing two Gospel tracts to a bulletin board at the entrance of an apartment building. They showed me the tracts. They also showed me a police report, written by a young woman. She wrote something like this: "I was walking with my friend, when I saw two announcements glued to our bulletin board. They attracted our attention, because they were invitations for people to come to a home and study the Bible with a Baptist preacher. My friend and I were shocked! We even felt a little bit scared and disgusted that foreign religious cultists were active in our own home town. We took pictures of these papers with our phones. I give you copies of these pictures with this report. We indignantly ripped these papers off the board, and brought them to the police station to report this dangerous activity, as any patriotic citizen would do."
This was an interesting story, except for one thing. I have never in all my life ever glued a Gospel tract to a bulletin board. I have glued thousands of posters to these boards, which is totally legal, but never a Gospel tract. I told the police just that. They showed me the photographs. The tracts were mine, of course. I make them myself with my computer and printer. Since 2002, I have distributed over 300,000 tracts like this in Oryol, but I always put them in mailboxes, or give them personally to people. It is obvious to me that the police set up this whole story. When they came looking for a children's meeting on July 3rd, I gave them copies of all the literature that we distribute. I made sure that each of the four policemen received his own Gospel tract, hoping that one of them might be touched by the Gospel message. It seems that two of these tracts ended up being glued to a board. I have no doubt that the young lady who wrote the report is a girlfriend of one of the policemen.
2) I was accused of conducting a religious service in a private home, which they said was a violation of the new anti-missionary law. They had proved this by personal observation when they attended the service that morning. For the previous 4 weeks, I had been diligently studying that very law, so I was fully prepared to refute the charges. I recited to them, chapter and verse, exactly what the new law says, and explained in detail why it did not apply to my activity. As a private person, not a representative of any registered religious group, I have the constitutional right to practice my faith and to share it with others, especially in my own home. I told them, "You are going to be embarrassed when these charges are overturned in court. You will have a very hard time making them stick. Let's just forget this and I will go home."
The accusation also claimed that I was at fault for not notifying the government before I began my religious group activities. I pointed out that, while the law allows people to form an organized religious group, it does not require them to do so. People are free to gather together for worship, whether or not they officially organize.
At one point, they told me to empty my pockets, and they wrote an inventory of the contents, as if they were going to lock me in jail. I asked them why they did this, unless they were going to lock me up. They said, "Oh no, we won't do that, it's just standard procedure." I said, "You already lied to me once. Why should I believe you now? If I am to be locked in jail, just tell me, so I can call my lawyers." They let me put my things back in my pockets. The paperwork was almost finished. I thought they were about to let me go home.
They allowed me to examine the documents, and asked me to sign them. As my attorney instructed, I wrote on the comment section, "I, Donald Jay Ossewaarde, categorically disagree that I have broken the law, because I did not glue those invitations to the bulletin board of the home on Pushkin Street. I am not a representative of any registered religious organization, therefore I could not have conducted missionary activities as described in Federal Law number 125. I meet in my own private home with friends, and that is the business of a private person in a private home, and does not violate the law. I intend to file a complaint, because I have been unjustly accused."
They let me out of the police station, and said, "Come with us, we will give you a ride."
I said, "No thank you, I will just go home by myself from here."
"No, you need to come with us."
"Would it be correct for me to say that I am under arrest?"
"Oh. no, nothing like that, you are not under arrest."
"But I am not free to go home on my own as I wish?"
"You need to come with us. We will give you a ride."
They took me to a court house to talk to a judge. They said the judge would review the charges and then I could go home.
It seemed strange to me that a court would be in session on a Sunday. A review of public records on the website shows that my case was the only one heard that day in that courthouse.
The police told me that this judge would review the paperwork and decide whether or not to proceed with charges. So I went into the judge's office. She asked me if I would answer some questions and asked if I needed a lawyer. I told her I would not answer any questions without a lawyer. My lawyers are in Moscow, so I asked if we could do this later in the week. She said we had to do this on that same day, and they could appoint a lawyer for me for this hearing. I waited for them to find a lawyer. Then I would have time to consult with the lawyer before I answered any questions.
I talked to the court appointed lawyer. He told me that I should answer basic questions about who I am, etc., and I didn't need to answer anything else. He told me to tell the judge that I don't agree with the charges and ask for them to be dismissed. He would be with me to support my position. Then he went in the judge's office to review the paperwork.
We went into the judge's office again. I answered some basic questions. The judge read all of the documents. The police answered questions about why they thought I broke the law. I said that I did not agree that I had broken the law and asked the judge to drop the charges. Then we waited in the corridor again for the judge to reach a decision. If she said no, the case is dropped. If she said yes, it will go to court and I have ten days for my lawyers to work on a motion to drop charges. I thought the hearing went well. The judge seemed to be open to my version of the case. We will see soon what she says.
The judge has decided that I am guilty. I am to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles, about $600. I have ten days for my lawyers to file a complaint and a motion to drop charges. I had the sinking feeling that my ministry in Oryol was finished
I had to wait a while longer at the courthouse to get my copies of the documents and then they let me go. The lawyers at the Slavic Center of Law and Justice in Moscow told me they will help me with the appeal. If the decision is overturned, I may consider that I can go back to normal activities. If the courts decide that I have broken the law, then I cannot operate legally and we will need to leave Russia. In the mean time, I have decided not to have any services, or pass out literature, or do anything else "illegal" until this question is resolved. Thankfully, there was no talk of deportation, which is one of the penalties under this law. If I don't do anything else "illegal", they will have no reason to deport me, so I would have time to sell my properties if we decide to leave.
Here are copies of the accusation and conviction documents.