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A new law in Russia that had prompted Christian groups to call for a day of prayer and fasting before its final adoption has been signed into law and now will restrict even the most innocuous conversations about faith, according to reports.

“The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorization from the state,” reported Barnabas Fund, which aids persecuted Christians worldwide.

“This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present,” the organization said. “Churches will also be held accountable for the activities of their members. So if, for example, a church member mentions their faith in conversation with a work colleague, not only the church member but also the church itself could be punished, with individuals facing fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($770).”

Radio Free Europe reported Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the “contentious” law that was promoted as countering terrorism.

It also toughens punishments for extremism and violence, boosts the government’s ability to do surveillance and makes it criminal to fail to tell authorities about certain crimes. It also, the report said, “boosts state access to private communications, requiring telecom companies to store all telephone conversations, text messages, videos, and picture messages for six months and make this data available to the authorities.”

Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that groups like Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also identify Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”

Encrypted programs must provide authorities a key, and the law “also increases the number of crimes that 14-year-olds can be prosecuted for and restricts the activity of religious preachers.”

Critics have charged that it is unconstitutional and likely to be used “to suppress dissent.”

“Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition lawmaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, wrote sarcastically on Twitter that Putin’s enactment of the law had brought about ‘a wonderful new world with expensive Internet, prison for children, and global surveillance,'” RFE reported.

Russia Today reported the crackdown was triggered by the bombing of an A-231 jetliner in Egypt last October and the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Among the penalties are 10 years for engaging in international terrorism and 15 years for financing terror groups.

Voice of America reported human rights activists have warned that the law’s requirements do not meet generally accepted international standards or the European Convention on Human Rights.

Barnabas Fund said Protestant Christians in Russia “fear that the new law will be chiefly enforced as a weapon against them and not used against the Orthodox Church, which Mr. Putin has favored in the past.”

When Barnabas Fund called for a day of prayer to oppose the plan, reports noted that such restrictions on discussing religion in public long have been sought by Muslim majority countries, which cast it as a religious freedom issue, claiming that no one should “disparage” any religion, although the only beneficiary appears to be Islam.

WND reported members of an advisory council of heads of Protestant churches in Russia had asked Putin to stop the law.

Sergey Ryakhovsky, a co-chair of the council, said at the time the amendments regarding “freedom of conscience and on religious associations” are extreme.

He said such prohibitions were not even contained in the “godless” Bolshevik plans of the 1920s.

The bill, he noted, “violates the fundamental rights and freedoms in the sphere of religious freedom.”

“The Constitution of the Russian Federation Article 28 says that everyone is guaranteed freedom of religion, including the right to freely disseminate religious and other convictions.”

He also noted international law asserts the “inalienability of the right to distribute their religious beliefs.”

And, he pointed out, the plan “is in contradiction with Article 30 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.”

“Believers tend to talk about their faith, and no law can forbid … it,” he said. “The Soviet past reminds us how many people of different faiths were persecuted for their faith, for spreading their beliefs, the Word of God. … Our fathers not only paid fines and were sentenced to prison terms for ‘illegal assembly,’ for ‘religious agitation,’ for preaching and prayer. And today we see clearly that the proposed bill gets us back to that shameful past.”

Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea have collaborated to create “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,” which confirms that groups like Pew Research, Newsweek and The Economist also identify Christians as “the world’s most widely persecuted religious group.”

 

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