A yoga teacher in Russia has been charged with illegal missionary activity under a controversial new law designed to fight terrorism.
Computer programmer Dmitry Ugay was detained by police in St Petersburg in October while giving a talk at a festival about the philosophy behind yoga.
Ugay says he was stopped 40 minutes into his discussion, put into a car and taken to a police station without being informed of his apparent offense.
The 44-year-old now faces a fine for allegedly conducting illegal missionary activity, an administrative offense under the new Yarovaya law, a package of legal amendments intended to fight terrorism that is named after its author, the MP Irina Yarovaya. The new legislation includes restrictions on missionary activity, religious groups, and followers of what the government deems ‘non-traditional’ religions.
Ugay’s arrest comes after he was accused by fellow festival-goer, Nail Nasibulin, of recruiting young people to join into the ranks of this pseudo-Hindu organisation under the guise of cultural events”.
Two months after his arrest and subsequent release, he now faces a fine at a court hearing next week in St Petersburg, state news agency Rapsi reported.
But Mr Ugay, who admits following Hinduism, strenuously denied the other claims, telling the Meduza news agency: “I did not name a single religious organisation in my speech, nor did I use a single religious book, and did not name a single religious figure apart from Christ and Buddha.
The arrest has been met with concern in Russia, with critics calling the wording of the Yarovaya law open to interpretation.
Alexander Verkhovsky, head of the Moscow-based Sova Centre which monitors the exploitation of anti-terror measures, said: “It’s entirely unsurprising that police officers on the ground cannot work it out.
“Because the law exists, it is going to be implemented somehow. It cannot be implemented well because of the stupidity of the phrasing.”
He said in Mr Ugay’s case it was unclear what religious group he was allegedly persuading people to follow.
Mr Verkhovsky added: “What was he calling people to join? Yoga is in no way a religious group.”
A Hare Krishna follower has also been charged with illegal missionary activity for handing out literature, and faces a 50,000 rouble (£68) fine.
And the Salvation Army was also fined and had 36 copies of the bible confiscated after they were not properly labelled as religious material.