Love yoga? Be careful of singing its praises in Russia. Yoga teacher Dmitry Ugay faces a fine for allegedly conducting illegal missionary activity, all for giving a talk about the philosophies behind the practice.
Mr Ugay was detained back in October 2016, when he gave the lecture in St Petersburg. He was accused under Russia's new Yarovaya Law, a package of legal amendments intended to combat terrorism, which include increased regulation of evangelism, such as a ban on “missionary activities” in non-religious settings.
According to news portal Meduza, complainant Nail Nasibulin accused Mr Ugay of being a missionary monk on behalf of a local Hindu centre. While Mr Ugay himself identifies as a Hindu, he firmly denies any charges of missionary activity.
“I relied on special publications that are used in all universities where they study Indian philosophy. 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,” he stated in an interview with Radio Liberty's Russian Service.
After postponement, the yoga teacher's trial is now set to take place on 18 January. The result will be of great concern both to Russia's strong yoga following, and to those worried by the new laws.
Alexander Verkhovsky, who heads up the Sova Center, a Moscow-based NGO that monitors the abuse of anti-extremism legislation, deems the wording of the legislation to be dangerously ambiguous.
“It's entirely unsurprising that police officers on the ground cannot work it out,” Mr Verkhovsky says. “Because the law exists, it is going to be implemented somehow. It cannot be implemented well because of the stupidity of the phrasing.”
Source: Radio Liberty