STRASBOURG - On 29 March, Donald Ossewaarde filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights with the support of ADF International. The US Baptist missionary argues his right to religious freedom was violated. Mr. Ossewaarde had held weekly Bible meetings at his home in the Russian city of Oryol, 300 kilometres south of Moscow, for many years before being found guilty of conducting illegal missionary activities by a local court. He is the first US-missionary to fall victim to ’counter-terrorism’ laws that the Russian government introduced in July 2016.
“Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental rights. Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. Despite the Russian Constitution guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion for all, Donald Ossewaarde has been charged with a criminal offence for holding a peaceful Church service in his own home. His conviction is a hugely concerning development for religious freedom across Russia in general, and for Christian missionaries in particular,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International and leading lawyer on this case.
Appealing against the new law’s severe sanctions
On 14 August 2016, three policemen came to the Sunday morning Bible study that Donald Ossewaarde and his wife were hosting at their home. Recently introduced ‘anti-terror’ legislation had criminalized religious meetings outside of state-registered venues. Mr. Ossewaarde was charged with conducting illegal missionary activities. He was later found guilty and sentenced to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles, which is over $600. Mr. Ossewaarde appealed the case up to the Russian Supreme Court. He wanted to challenge his conviction and the constitutionality of the new legislation. Until now all of his appeals have been unsuccessful.
"An appeal to the European Court of Human Rights represents a last resort in challenging a law that appears to violate the fundamental right of religious freedom in Russia. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Russian government should reconsider the scope of its counter-terrorism laws to guarantee the right to freedom of religion for all of its inhabitants. While the new legislation aims to prevent terrorist activity, it has had a devastating effect on religious activities that cannot be considered dangerous in any sense, as Donald Ossewaarde's case and many others prove," added Wilkinson.