The first reports of Christian leaders being arrested in Russia following the passing of new anti-terrorism laws that ban evangelism outside of churches have started coming in.
The Moscow Times reports that Sergei Zhuravlyov, a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior, was arrested earlier this month while he was preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community, and was charged with violating a provision of the law that bans illegal missionary activity.
Law enforcement officials later told Interfax news agency that Zhuravlyov is being accused of "fomenting negative attitudes toward the Russian Orthodox Church," and of having ties to the Ukrainian nationalist political party called Right Sector, which is banned in Russia.
Ukraine and Russia remain in a state of conflict following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which has also sparked violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in the eastern parts of Ukraine.
Zhuravlyov has since been released on bail, with his case sent to court.
Thousands of churches in Russia announced back in July that they would be coming together in prayer and fasting against the new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin, which in its anti-terrorism efforts prohibits the sharing of faith in any place that is not a government-sanctioned house of worship.
"This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church," Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, said in July. "Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history."
As the law also bans foreign missionaries from speaking at churches without permission from Russian authorities, international organizations such as the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, said a new manner of carrying out missionary work in Russia will need to be established.
Reports noted that violators of the law, if Russian citizens, would face a fine of f $75 to $765, while organizations could be looking at fines of up to $15,265. Foreigners found breaking the law would be deported, however.
The SCLJ, an affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, said that it is reviewing changes to the law when it comes to freedom of conscience and the activities of religious institution; the rights of foreign citizens to conduct missionary activities in Russia; and how to carry out missionary work without breaking the law.
"Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Russia and pass along the information about this webinar to your pastor and any others who may know about missionaries in Russia who could find it useful," the ACLJ said in a statement.
"We will continue defending Christians around the globe to ensure their rights to share their faith are protected."