We’ve spoken quite a bit about Russia’s new anti-terrorism bill that passed the Duma last week and was signed into law by President Putin on July 7. While the law is ostensibly aimed at preventing terrorist activity in a country, it comes at the expense of freedom of assembly, expression, and worship.
Mormon missionaries are among those expected to be affected by the law, which takes effect on July 20. We reached out to the Church’s public affairs office right when it was about to release a statement, so here’s the statement!
The Church recognizes a new law will take effect in Russia on July 20, 2016 that will have an impact on missionary work. The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law. Missionaries will remain in Russia and will work within the requirements of these changes. The Church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect.
There’s not a ton of meat in the statement, but that’s to be expected. Per usual, as Mormons we seek to uphold the law of the land where we exist.
What might be impacted? Only state-registered groups are even allowed to share beliefs, but for those who can do so, the law restricts the venues wherein said beliefs can be shared. Religious organizations are banned from sharing beliefs in residential areas, and residential properties cannot be converted into religious ones. In addition, the law is so draconian in measure that in some circumstances it bans even responding to questions about one’s beliefs.
In addition, fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($780) can be levied upon violators; even more at a higher organizational level.
Needless to say, it is difficult to see how Mormon missionaries will be able to operate freely under the new law, presumably being forced to entertain passersby at Church buildings and restrict discussions and proselytizing to inside the building. In looking for silver lining, perhaps members will now need to provide potential converts for missionaries (which is the ideal, anyway), but those members will potentially face the same restrictions on sharing religious belief with their friends in even a casual setting at home.
Other components of the law include a requirement for telecom companies to store user data for up to three years and keep that data available for prying government eyes. The FSB, Russia’s state security service, has required messaging apps like Facebook and Telegram to provide decryption keys to their data, a move that the CEO of Telegram has already refused to comply with.
These anti-terror laws are reportedly aimed at curbing Islamic terrorism—Telegram is popular with ISIS—but human rights groups have decried the Soviet-style restrictions on freedom of worship. And of course, not just Mormons are affected. This represents an entire paradigm shift in the role of religion in Putin’s Russia.
We’ll be following this story closely, as we do most things in the former Soviet sphere, so keep it tuned to TWiM for updates.