US missionary to Russia faces appeal court over fine for evangelism

Don and Ruth Ossewaarde. A Baptist preacher, Ossewaarde was fined 40,000 rubles for holding religious services in his home.

The US missionary charged in Russia with offences against the country's restrictive new religion law has asked for prayer in advance of his appeal hearing.

Independent missionary Don Ossewaarde served in the central Russia town of Oryol with his wife Ruth. He was fined 40,000 rubles (around $700) for holding religious services in his home and advertising them on the bulletin boards of nearby housing blocks.

Ruth Ossewaarde has already returned home and the couple are to bring their missionary work to a close. However, Ossewaarde is to fight the appeal, which is to be heard on September 19. He said his attorney was coming from Moscow and asked supporters to "Please pray that these charges will be dropped."

The law has been criticised by rights activists because of its broad sweep and poor drafting. It forbids missionay activity by representatives of a religious organisation. However, Ossewaarde will argue that as he is not a member of a religious organisation he has not broken the law. He said on the update page of his website: "The new law is blatantly unconstitutional, but the president signed it, so constitutionality is not our strongest defense in this case. Our appeal is based on the fact that I did not act as an authorized representative of a registered religious association, therefore I did not break THIS law.

"In other words, under the current legal and political situation, I can only continue being a missionary here by trying as hard as I can to prove in court that I am not a missionary."