Russia (MNN) — Russians may think twice before picking up their next anti-government protest sign.
Russia's upper house of parliament voted through a bill on Tuesday to significantly increase protest-related fines. The bill still needs President Vladimir Putin's signature to go into effect, but Putin has already voiced his favor, according to several media sources.
The controversial bill will raise the fines for unauthorized protests and violations of sanctioned protests 150 times. The current fine for protest violations is typically 2,000 rubles ($61 USD), although BBC News says it can be as high as 5,000 rubles ($154).
If the bill passes, the fines will rise to 300,000 rubles ($9,200) for protest participants and 600,000 rubles ($18,400) for protest organizers.
With such a dramatic increase, the bill essentially places protesting as a more severe crime than a number of others. The Associated Press points out that unauthorized protests will now cost participants more than a violation of prostitution (2,500 rubles), more than harboring nuclear materials (5,000-40,000 rubles), and more than high-jacking a car (120,000 rubles).
Human rights groups have reportedly called the bill a violation of freedom of assembly.
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association admits that the bill did come as a bit of a surprise. "It's like this one sort of slipped in under the radar. I don't even recall seeing anything that such a bill was moving through parliament."
Although the church tends to stay out of political protests all together, restrictions on freedoms of any kind could bode poorly in a region not exactly known for its friendliness toward evangelicals. Many of the surrounding "stan" countries already have heavy restrictions regarding freedom of speech and religion.
"What impact this has down the road–if this could possibly expand from the political realm into the religious realm–remains to be seen. I think we certainly need to keep that a matter of prayer."
Pray that opportunities may even open for the Gospel to be shared as Russians continue to grow disillusioned with the government. SGA will be reaching thousands of kids with the Good News this summer with a number of summer camps.
No matter what is to come, says Griffith, "The Gospel's going to go forward no matter what fallen man does. The Lord will continue to build His church."