Russian evangelicals are expressing alarm in light of President Vladmir Putin’s signing of a so-called anti-terrorism law last Thursday that imposes harsh restrictions on religious freedom by banning religious gatherings in homes as well as evangelism and missionary activities.

How this law will be applied when it goes into effect on July 20 remains “a very huge question mark,” according to Joel Griffith of the Slavic Gospel Association. Other leaders fear the move signals a return to Russia’s “shameful past” of Communist persecution of Christians, Radio Free Europe reports.

Griffith told Mission Network News in an interview on Friday that the law “could stop missionary activity to anybody but representatives, registered organizations and groups, it would require every missionary to have documents with specific information proving connections to a registered religious group.”

If enforced as strictly as the text says, Griffith notes, missionaries and anyone desiring to share the Gospel outside of their church can expect fierce penalties.

Governments and human rights advocates all over the world have condemned the law.

Thomas J. Reese, chair of the the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, called the law “deeply flawed,” saying it would “make it easier for Russian authorities to repress religious communities, stifle peaceful dissent, and detain and imprison people. He added that neither the new measures “nor the currently existing anti-extremism law meet[s] international human rights and religious freedom standards.”

The new “Yarovaya” law, named after the bill’s author Irina Yarovaya, contains new police and counterterrorism measures eerily reminiscent of Soviet-era KGB tactics that grant state security agencies the authority to access private communications, regulate Christian proselytizing on the internet, and requires telecom companies to store phone conversations, text messages, and videos for six months and provide that data to the government.

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