A Christian woman brought a landmark case in the Russian Constitutional Court in St Petersburg on 8 October when she challenged a fine of 10,000 rubles (£122; $155; €140) imposed by the authorities for allowing her house to be used by her Protestant church for worship services.
Olga's lawyer, Vladimir Riakhovsky, said he could show to the court at least a dozen similar cases, where land designation had been used to restrict the rights of Protestant Christians. If her case is successful, the ruling will have significant implications for religious freedom in Russia.
Riakhovsky said Olga's case exposed a "legal ambiguity" that was being used to stifle freedom of conscience and religious associations. "The right of a religious organisation to conduct worship services in residential buildings is explicitly provided by the Federal Law," he said.
In January 2017, Olga allowed her fellow church members to meet in the house she owns in the village of Veselyi, Rostov Oblast, once a week for a four-hour worship service. She also registered the church at the house, which is built on land designated for "private farming". Nine months later, in September 2017, district officials fined her for "use of the land for unintended purposes", a decision later upheld in two court hearings.
The decision of the Constitutional Court, which is final and may not be appealed, is expected within one to two months.
Christian leaders in the Russian port city of Novorossiysk are also legally challenging the closure, in July 2019, of a local Baptist Church and say they are prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. They described the shutdown as a "flagrant violation" of the 1997 Religion Law and the Russian Constitution as it "prevents believers from coming together to profess their faith".
Legislative confusion combined with Protestant congregations finding it "practically impossible" to get permission to construct church buildings often means that there is no alternative but to meet in residential buildings. However, it is not permitted to register existing residential buildings as churches. This contradiction is placing individual churches under an increasing threat of closure from the authorities.
From Barnabas Fund contacts
Originally from: Barnabas Fund
CCD reprinted with permission.