A new anti-terrorism law in Russia includes measures that will limit religious work in the country, calling into question the fate of Mormon missionaries currently serving there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin formally signed the legislation into effect on Thursday, which will prohibit the door-to-door evangelizing Mormon missionaries commonly do. On Friday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement saying missionaries would remain in the country but will reevaluate their strategy.
“The Church recognizes a new law will take effect in Russia on July 20, 2016 that will have an impact on missionary work. The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law,” the statement read.
Missionaries will continue to operate under the new guidelines, the statement said. And the church plans to “study and analyze the law and its impact” moving forward.
Named the “Yarovaya law” after its author, United Russia member Irina Yarovaya, the package of amendments allegedly aims to crack down on potential terror activity and extremism.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and others have dubbed it the “Big Brother law” for its restrictive measures, including one requiring telephone and internet providers to keep records of all communications for six months. Another measure increases the sentence for “extremism” from four to eight years in prison, though the charge has been known to be raised against social media users for criticizing Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
The law will go into effect on July 20, and from that point missionaries will be required to have documentation of their affiliation with a registered organization. The law also prohibits missionaries and organizations from praying and disseminating religious materials in private residences, and some fear this may also hinder their ability to send online communications inviting people to meetings at private homes. Fines for doing so will run up to $780 for an individual missionary and $15,500 for an organization, according to The Guardian.
Mormon missionary work frequently includes studying scriptures, discussing Mormonism with people missionaries encounter, distributing copies of the Book of Mormon, teaching the faith to those interested in learning more and helping people through their baptism if they want to join the church. Under Russia’s new law, Mormon missionaries currently working in the country will need to be careful to limit all activities to sanctioned Mormon sites.
Other religious groups with evangelization programs like the Mormon church’s will also be affected, according to Religion News Service, including the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists.
“We work very hard to comply with all of the legal requirements,” Garry Borders, who served for three years as president of the Moscow Mission, told Deseret News. Mormons in Russia “are courageous,” he said. “I am confident they will find ways to share the gospel and still comply with the requirements of the new law. They are wonderful in their support of missionaries.”
There are roughly 22,720 Mormons living in Russia and seven missionary sites, according the the LDS Church website. More than 70,000 Mormon missionaries are currently sharing their faith around the world, some of them in countries like Malaysia and Greece that are known to have certain restrictions against proselytizing.
A public affairs representative for the Mormon church said she could not offer comment on Russia’s new law beyond Friday’s official statement, but told The Huffington Post: “It is a situation that we’ll be monitoring closely – especially if the Russian government offers more clarification.”
A previous version of this article cited the Religion News Service as reporting that the LDS church had 30 missionaries in Russia. A spokesperson for the church could not confirm or deny that number to The Huffington Post.