Police arrived unannounced at the home of Donald and Ruth Ossewaarde during a small church gathering last August. Missionaries living in the Russian city of Oryol, the Ossewaardes had been hosting peaceful Sunday services regularly for over 10 years in their apartment. There was no reason to believe that they were breaking any law. However, when the gathering ended, three policemen brought Mr. Ossewaarde to the local police station and charged him with a number of criminal offenses. His crime? Conducting “illegal missionary activity” that was prohibited under Russian law.
In July 2016, President Putin signed a raft of legislation into law with the stated aim of addressing the threat posed by ISIS. The changes included an amendment to the federal law on freedom of conscience and religious associations. There was concern at the time that the law would undermine freedom of religion, speech and assembly in Russia, but it proceeded to pass through Parliament. Less than a month after the new law took effect, officials had shut down the Ossewaardes’ small church gathering in their own home.