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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed the so-called “Yarovaya package” of laws which substantially toughen criminal accountability for a number of crimes and introduce new forms of violations of law, including “failure to report a crime”.

The package also forbids unregistered organizations [chiefly religious groups] to engage in missionary activity, while any missionary activity by registered organizations outside the walls of a church is prohibited.

Missionaries will have to get a special package of documents from the organizations authorizing them. Religious work and proselytizing will be regulated throughout Russia.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the law in a news release Friday, calling it a “guise” that authorizes “sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement noting that its missionaries “will honor, sustain and obey the law” and “work within the requirements of these changes.”

People who conduct religious missionary work — including preaching, praying and disseminating materials — in private residences can be fined up to $15,000 and may be deported under the new law.

Religious groups, such as the Mormon church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslim organizations, also must be registered to operate in the country. USCIRF worries that dissidents will be imprisoned; it said the law makes it “very difficult for religious groups to operate.”

There has been a sustained campaign in lower courts to prevent smaller religious groups from growing or continuing to operate, with the Mormon church, Church of Scientology, Jehovas Witnesses and Muslim organisations particularly targeted.

Consideration of a petition to find a “Warning regarding impermissibility of conducting extremist activity” issued by a deputy prosecutor general of Russia to the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to be illegal will begin on 18 July in the Tver district court of the city of Moscow.
In its official warning, the office of the prosecutor general of the Russian federation threatens to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia for so-called “extremist activity.” The Administrative Center does however note that the warning by the office of the prosecutor general is based on an incorrect application of the federal law “On combating extremist activity.”

The Yarovaya package was adopted earlier by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council of the RF, RIA Novosti reports.  The laws, one of whose authors was Deputy Irina Yarovaya.

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