At least 56 organizations and 103 individuals faced prosecution in 2018 under “anti-missionary” restrictions first imposed in 2016, according to Forum 18.
In these 159 prosecutions, courts imposed 132 initial convictions, with 129 fines. More than half the regions in Russia saw at least one prosecution, and almost every religious affiliation.
Lawyer Mikhail Frolov warns these prosecutions have had a chilling effect. “Believers don’t understand what they can and can’t do, and because of heavy fines they don’t want to take the risk and therefore significantly reduce their activity, especially in public.”
Prosecutions have continued in 2019, including two Baptists punished for offering religious literature at a bus stop and a Buddhist punished for a meditation meeting.
Almost all the individuals prosecuted in 2018 were Russian citizens. Of the 14 foreigners prosecuted (one of them twice), three were ordered deported (although one had the deportation order overturned on appeal).
Law enforcement agencies across Russia continue to use the “anti-missionary” legislation to control and punish the exercise of freedom of religion or belief in public and even private space. Police and prosecutors continue to interpret a broad spectrum of activity as “missionary,” from posting videos on social media to praying with friends in one’s own home.