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October 5, 2016 - Yellow journalism
I am grateful for much of the news reporting about our court case in various media all over the world. Most of it has been positive. Just last week, our story was reported on the Fox News website and in Newsweek magazine. Today, the English language Moscow Times published an article about us. The local media has not been as favorable to our point of view, although we did receive some fair coverage on local television. Please watch this TV report from Monday. I added English subtitles. The original is here.
On Friday, the day of the September 30 hearing, the Oryol News published an article in print, and on their website, that was very disturbing to me. It begins with a very detailed and accurate description of the hearing. Then, it goes on to make several false statements about me, and strongly implies that I am a subversive foreign influence who is working to overthrow the government.
Another journalist here said to me that this article is “yellow journalism”. That’s an old American term from the late 1800’s, which refers to news reporting that does not care about telling the truth, as long as it provokes controversy and sells papers.
The headline itself, “From Baptism to the Maidan” is very provocative. The Maidan, of course, is the huge central square in Kiev, Ukraine, where protests in 2014 turned violent, and led to the downfall of the Pro-Russian government of Ukraine. The Russian government is very worried that a similar protest movement might come to Russia, and might lead to the downfall of the Putin regime. They are determined to prevent a “Russian Maidan”. The Russians are convinced that Americans provoked and supported the Maidan protests. To link my name and my ministry with the word Maidan is to suggest that I am not in this country to share the Gospel, but to undermine the Russian government.
Here is my translation of the article. (original source here) I will insert my own comments [in square brackets].
"From Baptism to the Maidan" - Oryol Court upholds the first verdict on the "Yarovaya Package"
by Dennis Volin, Oryol news
Orel Regional Court on September 30 upheld the decision of the district court, which ruled against US citizen Donald Jay Ossewaarde. He became one of the first in Russia to be charged under the so-called "Yarovaya Package" for his missionary work. The American does not consider himself to be guilty. A few dozen people were in court to support him, including the consul of the United States Embassy. "Oryol News" also attended the meeting, and tried to find out who this Mr. Ossewaarde is.
There is quite a stir in the entrance hall of the regional court on the morning of 30 September. People of different ages, different genders, different types of dress and style lined up at the security metal detector. From the crowd can be heard not only Russian, but also English being spoken. At the head of the line are two solid-looking men in business suits and ties. One of them, who walks with a cane, can be recognized as Vladimir Ryakhovsky – lawyer and managing partner of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SCLJ). He is the brother of Sergei Ryakhovsky, head of the Russian Pentecostals, Pentecostal chairman of the Union of Evangelical Christians. Vladimir Ryakhovskiy came to represent the interests of Donald Ossewaarde, a local missionary, charged under the Yarovaya law.
Earlier, the Oryol District Court found him guilty according to chapter 5, article 5.26 of the Administrative Code ("carrying out missionary activity by a foreign national in violation of the law on freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and religious associations") and sentenced him to a fine of 40 thousand rubles. The court ruled that Ossewaarde did not notify the Ministry of Justice about the beginning of the activities of his religious association, as provided by the amendments of the "Yarovaya Package". [As my lawyers proved in court, even if I did have a religious association, which I do not, this notification is an option, but it is not an obligation.] The American was one of the first in Russia who fell under the sanctions of these amendments and the first who challenged the decision in a higher court.
In the courtroom, the American himself has already taken his place. He is a lean man, wearing a white shirt and tie, glasses and black trousers. He is talking about something with a gray-haired man in a gray suit. They speak English with a distinct American accent. The man speaking with Ossewaarde is Richard Francis Hanrahan, First Secretary Consul of the US Embassy in Russia, who came specially to support his "fellow countryman".
Ossewaarde has three lawyers. In addition, the column of people from the hall gradually flows into the room. Most are, surprisingly, not Baptists, but Oryol "Pentecostals" - evangelical Christians, followers of Pentecostalism, one of the movements of Protestantism. There are several hundred of these in Oryol. It is noteworthy that the founder of one of the Pentecostal organizations, "Light of the World", is local police officer Vitaly Nazarov (The leader is Andrei Novozhenin). Many of their colleagues are in the hall.
Into the hall comes judge Lubov Safronova. First, she asks Donald Ossewaarde if he requires a translator.
- No, says the American, but I have an additional attorney.
- You wish to present the court with the credentials of another attorney? Says the judge.
- Yes. The American nods to Ryakhovskiy
At today’s hearing, witnesses will give statements. The judge offers to start their interrogation, from which it will become clear where the administrative prosecution of the 56-year-old US citizen first began.
[I am actually only 55.]
This is told by Anna Bakaeva, an employee of the youth government of the Oryol region, the understudy of the Deputy Governor for Security.
[The youth government is a volunteer program in which young people from 18 to 30 participate in government, learn how it works, and give advice to government officials.]
It was this girl who filed a complaint with the police in August 2016, with a request to check the activities of the American Baptist missionary.
Bakaeva told the court, “The first time, I saw a pink flyer with text, near the Rodina movie theater, which contained an invitation from missionary Donald Ossewaarde to come to a Bible study. Later, I saw a similar flyer in front of my house on Pushkin Street. I took a photo of this leaflet and ripped it down. Since it's my civic duty, I could not remain silent and carried the leaflet to the police. They explained to me what it is, and I decided to write a police report.
[Besides being a participant in the youth government, Anna Bakaeva is also a leader and activist in the “young anti-cult movement”. She was instrumental in getting the Jehovah’s witnesses banned in Oryol as an extremist organization. Here is a picture of her in May, organizing young people for a protest in the rain – “No cults in Oryol”. I did not glue any Gospel tracts to the bulletin board of her home. I suspect that she glued them there herself, in cooperation with the police. I know that the policemen involved had copies of my tracts, because I gave them some when they questioned me in July.]
Ryakhovskiy the lawyer asked for the floor.
- Do you think that to write ads, you need to have a permit? - He asked the witness.
- I read the "Yarovaya law". Therefore, I think that yes - you need permission. - said the girl.
In the courtroom, there was an indignant rumble.
To briefly summarize the story of the Ossewaarde case, it should be noted that in the 1990’s he came to Russia, as he says, as an "independent Baptist Missionary". For a while, he looked around, then he decided to invite people to his home to read the Bible together. For these purposes, he posted announcements around town, and put them in mailboxes. At some point, people started to come, and so the services began. For some years, nobody bothered Ossewaarde, however, the "Yarovaya Package" has recently been adopted in Russia, which regulates activities, including missionary work. One of the conditions for its implementation was the requirement to notify the Ministry of Justice about the beginning of activities of religious associations.
[As I said before, we presented proof in court that such notification is optional, and in my case is totally unnecessary, because I do not have a religious organization.]
According to the Court of First Instance, the American did not give such notification. He himself was convinced that, since there was no association, he was, therefore, not required to notify.
The next witness to be interrogated was Mr. Polishuk. The man in the velvet jacket said that "Donald and I have been friends for five years."
[Actually we have been friends for nearly 14 years, but Polishuk’s memory is not so good.]
They met at the Baptist church on Karachevskaya street.
“At that time Donald’s family was here. We became friends. Over time, he bought a house here. Every Sunday, people come to him. Some of them are college students. Incidentally, he taught America history at Oryol State University.” Polishuk said.
[I never worked for the university, but I was invited once or twice a year to give a lecture in the English department when they were studying American history.]
The judge asked:
- Were donations collected?
- Did he just have services?
- Well, we also had tea.
- And only Donald led the services?
This was followed by questions from the lawyers, bringing out the fact that the American did not have any religious organization. After hearing the witness, the judge went on to review the case documents. Among them, in particular, were forms which the missionary filled out when he arrived in Russia, and reports of the interrogation of other witnesses. One witness told police that she heard about the "church" from her friends. She stated that Ossewaarde was the "senior pastor” there, and said, “We sing songs there and study the Bible. I go voluntarily". The judge read these comments from a written statement.
[I have taught the people many times that our Bible study will not be a church until those who have been saved and baptized decide to commit to the duties and responsibilities of church membership, and voluntarily decide to organize as a church. They have never done so, but they still think of our meeting as church. I never refer to myself as pastor, but some of them naturally think of me in that way. The prosecution used these comments as evidence that our Bible study is an organization that falls under the controls of the Yarovaya law.]
- Do you have anything to say? – The judge asked the missionary.
The American stood up. “Yes, I’d like to say a word. When I came to Russia 14 years ago, I understood that in this country I have the freedom to spread my faith. Here we have a Constitution and the law. I started working. At first, I didn’t know anybody with whom I could share my knowledge. Over time, I began to personally invite people that I met on the street, handing out invitations. Then someone came and said he wanted to study the Bible with me.”
Ossewaarde paused, and then continued:
“30 years ago, in the Soviet Union, it was forbidden to spread your faith. I knew that Russia became a democratic country and that religious freedom is now protected by law. But then came the Yarovaya law. You see, I have always wanted to be a law-abiding citizen. When I read this law, I wondered if now, suddenly, I would be breaking the law, and then I would have to leave Russia. But when I finished reading the law, I realized that I have not violated anything. I do not preach the teachings of some organization, I preach my faith, the faith that Jesus came to this world. Straight from the Bible. I do not force anyone to study the Bible with me. If I would have been violating the law, I would have stopped doing it.”
The lawyers spoke next. Vladimir Ryakhovskiy said right at the beginning that his client was not a member of any religious group, so he did not have to notify anyone of anything.
"He (Ossewaarde) acted in a personal capacity as a Baptist Missionary. He has the freedom of religion" Ryakhovskiy said. He added that today there are 9 similar cases in Russia, "and nowhere have the courts given a clear justification [for applying this law to these cases]."
The second attorney for the missionary said that in Russia there is no concept of "independent Baptist", while in the US it is a common thing. "People conduct worship at home, on farms, and no one there raises any questions", said the representative of Ossewaarde. He asked the court to cancel the decision of the district court and to terminate the administrative case against his client.
The court ruled a few hours later. The American appeal was denied. The Regional Court found that the lower court's decision was reasonable. In particular, the judge Lubov Safronova, said that Donald Ossewaarde all the same should have notified the Ministry of Justice about the beginning of activities of his religious association, because a voluntary association of citizens falls into the category of a religious group. And such a group, according to the Yorovaya amendments, is obliged to notify the authorized body. Thus, the district court decision stands, and the missionary will have to pay a fine of 40 thousand rubles. The judge also noted that the deportation of the missionary from Russia is not proposed at this time.
[Up to this point, the article has been fairly accurate. Now the misinformation begins.]
Meanwhile, "Oryol News" [ON] found out some details about the activities of Donald Jay Ossewaarde in Oryol. ON has learned that the Baptist International Mission (BIMI) with headquarters in the US, opened its Eastern Europe operations in 1991, specifically in the countries of the CIS. [former Soviet Union] After the collapse of the USSR, according to the ideas of Baptist expansion theorists, Russian territory became a tasty target for the attraction of people to their faith. In the early 1990s, in Kiev, the St. Thomas Aquinas Superior Institute of Religious Sciences was founded to train pastors. Donald Ossewaarde graduated in 1996, then moved to Oryol. In a short time, he received money from this association, (and continues to receive), which he used to buy an apartment on the Turgenev street, as well as the house on 1st Kurskaya street, which has been converted for religious worship.
[So many lies! I am not an employee of BIMI. They do not give me money. They provide valuable support services, for which I pay them. I certainly never attended the St. Thomas Aquinas institute in Kiev. It is a catholic school! I never even heard of it before I read this article. I was never in Kiev until 1999. My house on 1st Kurskaya street has never been “converted for religious worship”. It remains just as it was when I bought it in 2006, although I have brought in a lot of chairs for our guests. The author of the article is trying to suggest several ideas that will turn public opinion against me. He infers that: “He came here from Kiev, so he must be a part of the movement that overturned the government there.” “He receives money from America, so he must be rich.” “He is connected with a missionary organization, so he must be lying about being an independent Baptist.” “He converted a private house into a church building, which is specifically prohibited by the Yarovaya law.” “He is part of a very scary invasion of the Russian motherland by western powers, who want to destroy Russian traditions and morals, and bring Russia to its knees.” This is the message that Russian people hear every day in the news media. It is non-stop propaganda. They paint the picture of a world that is against them. Only the great leaders in their government can protect them from these evil foreigners. The article continues…]
By the way, according to "ON" sources, not very many people gather in that house, only about 10-15 people. By the standards of religious organizations operating in Oryol, it is a drop in the ocean.
Most likely, the house is used for other things, including meetings with Ossewaarde’s American comrades. For example, in August of this year, he hosted there two graduates of the Kiev institute, who are also US citizens.
[The two young men who came from America in July (not August) were certainly not graduates of the catholic school in Kiev. They came to conduct a children’s program, and they were a blessing to us. Their visit is described in a way that makes it sound like we were plotting subversive plans.]
In general, Americans regularly travel here to visit the missionaries, and he flies once a year to their homeland. At the same time, Ossewaarde, a pensioner, supports a family, and has a house and an apartment. Besides that, he has no relations with other Baptist organizations in this area. Is he such a dedicated "independent Baptist", or is he pursuing some other goal? It is not possible to find a clear answer to this question...
[I wish it were true that other Americans visit us regularly. In fact, we have been blessed to have some visitors, but only about once every two years. It is not true that we fly to the homeland once a year. We generally only go to America for a few months once every three years. The author again paints a picture of a suspicious person who has a lot of money who must be doing something other than just sharing the Gospel.]
If we talk in general about the "unofficial" religious field in the Oryol Region, there are quite a few Baptist associations like Ossewaarde’s. According to "Oryol News" sources, they include Seventh-day Adventists, dissenting Baptists, Jehovah's witnesses and others. In almost all of them, there is an unwritten rule for the followers, which they deny - a tenth of their income is given to the fund most of these organizations. The Pentecostals are an execption. By the way, according to data from public sources, a considerable number of them participated in the well-known events on the Maidan in Kiev. "OH" sources tell us that Oryol Pentecostals were among them. They themselves admit that they were there, "as sympathizers"...
-----end of article-----
The article ends by linking me to Pentecostals who participated in the Maidan protests. It is clearly suggested that I am a foreign agent who is working undercover to bring a revolution to Russia. This is yellow journalism of the worst kind. We would call it tabloid journalism, as you would find in the National Enquirer. Lies and misleading suggestions are used to inflame public opinion.
The article appeared in the Friday edition of the paper. I asked my attorneys if there was legal recourse for me to get the paper to print a correction. They said I could take them to court for printing false information about me. On Monday morning, I went to the newspaper office and found the reporter, Dennis Volin. He recognized me right away and looked surprised to see me. I dropped a printed copy of the story on his desk. I shook his hand and thanked him for reporting the the trial in such detail. Then I sat down and said, "Several of the statements at the end of your article were not accurate. I am sure that you will want to correct them." He took out his notepad and asked me to tell him the details. When I finished, he promised to make the corrections.
Then, I looked him in the eye and said that it was irresponsible for him to link my name with the Pentecostals who demonstrated on the Maidan. I told him that he was making me look like an enemy of the people, and that he was putting me in danger. He said that it was a fact that the Pentecostals had been in Kiev. I told him that I have nothing to do with politics. He wanted to know my opinion about the Kiev protests. I told him that my only opinion was that it was a human tragedy when people were hurt, and that we should all live together in peace. Later that day, he published a correction, but left the original article unchanged. The correction falsely states that I have already appealed to the Supreme court. I intend to do so if necessary, but I did not tell him that I already had.
My life here just became a little more dangerous. I am glad that I sent my wife back to America. Pray that I can complete my duties here soon, and return to America before some “patriot” decides to throw a rock at me.