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August 23, 2016 - Filing the appeal

I had been in contact with the lawyers all week before Ruth left. We decided that I would meet them in Moscow after Ruth flew out on Monday. They had the appeal completely prepared, and sent me a draft copy on Saturday. I would file an official copy on Tuesday, within the 10 day deadline for appeal.

I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the quality of this legal document of appeal. They went through every point and proved without any wiggle room that I did not violate the law as it is written. They provided chapter and verse with citations from all the relevant laws and a heavy dose of the constitution. If there is any impartial justice at all to be found in this country, the charges against me must be dismissed. It is legally airtight, ironclad, and a slam dunk.

That does not necessarily mean that the court will do the right thing, but this is an ideal test case to set a precedent that would make this law totally ineffective against missionaries. I just about stood up and shouted when I read the last section of the appeal. They cite federal law #125, article 3, points 5 and 6, which states that it is a crime to require someone to say what religion they have, or don't have, or to say whether they participate in religious activities. The law also says it is a crime to obstruct a person's right to exercise his freedom of religion, whether by violence, insults, propaganda, property damage, or the threat of any such things. The penalty for interfering with a person's religious liberty is 10,000-30,000 rubles if done by an individual, 50,000-100,000 rubles if done by an official person, and 100,000 to 1 million rubles (over $15,000) if done by an organization.

The appeal points out that the local authorities interfered with our constitutional right to have a private worship service when they sent policemen into the service, identified themselves with badges, then stayed there to observe during the service, then questioned us and wrote official reports, and told me that we were breaking the law, charged me with a crime, and then pronounced me guilty and assessed a large fine.

The draft appeal ended by asking the court to do two things:

1) Drop all charges against me, as they are baseless and without any legal foundation.

2) Initiate criminal charges against the local authorities, according to the law, for interfering with the free exercise of religious liberty. As an organization, they would be subject to the highest fines.

I met with the lawyers in Moscow. They called me "the pioneer", because I am the first foreign missionary to be charged under this law. They gave me the prepared appeal and gave me detailed instructions about how to file it. When the appeal hearing is held, they plan to come and participate.

In the final draft of the appeal that we actually filed, the lawyers decided to remove the part about bringing criminal charges against the authorities for now, to avoid complicating the appeal, but whether or not the charges are dismissed, they are determined to press these charges as soon as the case is decided. They see this as a very important test case, and they want to be aggressive. The facts of the case are "clean" and completely in our favor. If these local authorities are slapped down hard, as they deserve to be, then people in other places will think twice before they mess with a missionary.

I went back to Oryol on Monday night, and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the train almost immediately, and nearly fell out of my seat. Even after I got home at 10 pm, I had to take care of some vital business, so I didn't get to bed until nearly 2am.

Tuesday morning, I went to the courthouse and filed the appeal. They will schedule a hearing in the district court, and we will see what happens. My attorneys will come from Moscow to represent me in the hearing.

I am still convinced that they intend to eventually get rid of me one way or the other. They have revealed their intentions loud and clear, even if this first attempt was clumsy and inept. They can make me leave any time they wish, simply by canceling my residency permit, or they can always accuse me of jaywalking or littering or a hundred other things. It seems clear that the door of opportunity here is closing. It's probably time to go, but it's good to know that I am trying to strike a good blow for freedom before I leave. It will probably take at least a few months to do what still needs to be done here.

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