On August 16, a judge in the city of Saky in Crimea fined a unregistered Baptist church leader and two ministers for illegal missionary activity related to worship activities held in a private residence. According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley, the ruling raises questions about government-imposed definitions of “religious group” and “missionary activity” and how those definitions may be used to prosecute Christians in other areas under Russian Federation control.
According to Representative Foley, Mr. Gerasimenko and two ministers, Shokhu P.L. and Shokhu L.P., were each fined 5,000 rubles (approx. 115,000 KRW) for implementation of missionary activities in alleged violation of Article 5.26 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation. On July 27, Mr. Gerasimenko had also been fined 300 rubles (approx. 7,000 KRW) for failing to submit a written notice of the beginning of the activities of a religious group, in alleged violation of Article 19.7 of the same code.
All three have appealed the judgments against them.
“The case is concerning for several reasons,” says Representative Foley. “First, the church has been in operation for 65 years. Second, authorities used a definition of ‘religious group’ which violates the Christian beliefs of the defendants. And third, authorities claimed that a private religious gathering service held in a private residence constitutes missionary activity. It’s a situation where authorities imposed their own anti-Christian definitions onto Christian activities and then found the defendants guilty of activities which violate the defendants’ own long-time, dearly held beliefs.”
According to Representative Foley, Voice of the Martyrs Korea received reports that on Sunday morning June 5, 2022, representatives of the prosecutor’s office, the police, and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) came to the house of prayer of an unregistered Baptist in Saky where believers were worshiping. “Eyewitnesses say the authorities took pictures of those who preached and those who were present,” says Representative Foley. “At the end of the service, the authorities questioned some of the brothers. Several times they asked, ‘Where is Gerasimenko Sergey Fedorovich?’”
On June 15, the prosecutor’s office initiate two cases against Mr. Gerasimenko, one for failure to register a religious group and one for illegal missionary activities. Then on June 20, two ministers were also charged with illegal missionary activities in connection with Mr. Gerasimenko.
On July 27, 2022, Mr. Gerasimenko was found guilty and fined for failing to register a religious group. In a copy of his complaint received by Voice of the Martyrs Korea, Mr. Gerasimenko objected to the charge. His complaint says, “My fellow believers never made any oral or written decisions to create a religious group and give it any name. The indicated persons also did not authorize me orally or in writing to notify the Office of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation about the beginning of the activities of a religious group, as this contradicts their and my beliefs as a Christian. My fellow believers also did not provide me with written consent to the processing and provision of their personal data like their full names, place of residence and their religious beliefs.”
On August 16, 2022, the three defendants were found guilty and fined for illegal missionary activity. “They said that sermons are for the edification of believers, not the conversion of unbelievers,” says Representative Foley. “It is a position that is rooted in the earliest Protestant tradition: sermons are not missionary activity.” She says the defendants are basing their appeal on Article 7 (part 1) of Federal Law 125 of September 26, 1997, “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations”, which allows worship to be legally held in premises that can be provided for these needs by the members of a religious group. “They are also noting that legally, worship does not automatically qualify as missionary activity.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is monitoring the appeal closely. “Requiring unregistered groups to register is a major theological issue for them, not just an administrative matter,” says Representative Foley. “And all churches become vulnerable to prosecution if regular worship services are legally regarded as missionary activities.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution.
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling on all Christians to pray for the Lord to cause the judgments against the three defendants to be annulled and the cases against them to be dismissed.
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is providing emergency assistance to local church congregations and individual Christians who are continuing to engage in faithful witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. Donations can be made to the organization’s Ukraine Emergency Fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation.