Evangelical believers paid a “tax on faithfulness” in 2022, and that tax is increasing, according to persecution watchdog Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
“Across the Russian Federation in 2022, basic Christian activities—gathering for worship, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, and personal evangelism—were investigated by Russian police and punished as crimes by Russian courts of law,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Believers paid fines, appealed their decisions, and in most cases lost their appeals. It is a trend that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is monitoring closely as 2023 begins.”
Representative Foley notes that Article 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the equality of the rights of citizens, regardless of their attitude to religion and beliefs. “It says that any form of restriction of the rights of citizens on the grounds of religious affiliation is prohibited. But in 2022, authorities across Russia visited not only the churches and homes but even the workplaces of evangelical Christian believers, interrogating them and charging them with crimes.”
“These believers were not demonstrating in the public square or evangelizing passersby on street corners,” Dr. Foley adds. “They were worshiping in their homes and church buildings and offering Christian literature in their shops.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea designated six cases as representative of the “rising tax on faithfulness” evangelical Russian believers faced in 2022. The cases are detailed below.
On November 8, 2022, in the village of Yayva, Perm region, a trial was held against the presbyter of the local evangelical church, Stefan Valery. The court found Stefan V. guilty and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).
The basis for the decision was a report from an inspector in the Ministry of Internal Affairs which said: “During the monitoring of social networks on the Internet, an official … revealed that Stefan V., professing religious beliefs of ‘Evangelical Christian-Baptists’ … carried out missionary activities for two years in violation of the requirements of the legislation ‘On freedom of conscience and religious associations’, disseminated information about the doctrine, held concerts, worship services, including among persons who are not members of this religious organization … And also he distributes materials like the newspaper ‘Do You Believe?’, which violated the law ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations’, Article 5.26 Part 4 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation.”
Representative Foley notes that the newspaper, “Do You Believe?”, is produced by a media company lawfully registered with the Russian government.
On April 11, 2021, in the city of Armavir, Krasnodar Territory, police and FSB officers and a group of people in civilian clothes drove up to the prayer house during a Sunday service. After the service ended, they questioned the minister, Vladimir Popov. They also examined the premises and took photos and videos. This was in addition to a video recording that had also been made by a person sent in advance to the church.
Officers from the Internal Affairs Directorate for Combating Extremism interrogated the believers and took samples of literature for examination. Later, Vladimir Popov was summoned to the prosecutor’s office, where he was handed a subpoena.
On June 28, 2021, the court found Vladimir Popov guilty of missionary activity and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).
Later, Lyubov Popova, the wife of the minister, was charged with unlawful commercial usage of the land on which the services were held.
On October 13, 2021, an FSB detective investigated the local house of prayer pastored by Vladimir Kharchenko. He then filed a report claiming that the church was in violation of the provisions of the Federal Law of September 26, 1997 No. 125-FZ, “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”. The detective said that the church was operating in an illegal building. The pastor was charged with organizing the activities of the church, carrying out worship services according to an established schedule, and giving visitors specialized religious literature including the New Testament, the Psalter, and copies of the newspaper, “Do You Believe?”
On January 11, 2022, the court found Vladimir Kharchenko guilty and imposed a fine of 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).
On February 19, 2022, Stepan Prokopovich, the presbyter of the local evangelical church, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office for questioning. He was asked: when do services take place, who preaches, what are the relations with representatives of other faiths, since when has he been a pastor, for what reason is the church not registered?
On March 14, 2022, the court ruled that Stepan Prokopovich should be fined 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD) for illegal missionary activity. During the appeal process, three more court sessions took place, and all of them upheld the earlier decision.
On March 16, 2022, Stepan Prokopovich was invited to a conversation at the Center for Countering Extremism. The questions were the same as in the prosecutor’s office. Soon he received by mail a statement entitled “On the ban on the activities of the local church.”
On May 12, 2022, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Ulyanovsk instituted a ban on the activities of the church.
At the beginning of June 2022, FSB officers and the prosecutor’s office officials came to the house where the meetings of the evangelical church in Nadym were held. The owner was not there, so they were not allowed into the house. They then went to the workplace of the church’s pastor, Veniamin Zapotylok. They asked: who the Baptists are, how do they treat Jehovah’s Witnesses, why the church does not register.
On Sunday June 5, 2022, authorities came to the worship service. Proceedings were secretly filmed and later used as evidence in court.
On August 8, 2022, the Nadym city court found Veniamin Zapotylok guilty of carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of the legislation, “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”, and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).
On September 1, 2022 in Armavir, authorities came to the workplace of a Christian, Maslenik Stanislav, and accused him carrying out missionary work by distributing copies of the newspaper “Do You Believe?” to participants in a key-making workshop he led. They searched the premises and seized eight newspapers.
On October 10, 2022, the Armavir city court found Maslenik Stanislav guilty and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).
Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work with evangelical Russian believers can visit https://vomkorea.com/en/project/russia-ministry/.