A Russian yoga teacher has been arrested for "illegal missionary activity" under controversial new laws designed to combat terrorism.
Dmitry Ugay is said to have fallen foul of the country’s anti-terror measures, dubbed a ‘Big Brother' law by Edward Snowden, while giving a talk about the philosophy of yoga at a St Petersburg festival.
The computer programmer was arrested and charged with allegedly conducting illegal missionary activity, which is an offence under the so-called Yarovaya laws brought in last year.
Named after its author MP Irinia Yarovaya, the new legislation, signed off by President Vladimir Putin, includes restrictions on missionary activity, religious groups, and followers of what the government deems non-traditional religions.
Mr Ugay’s arrest comes after he was accused by fellow festival-goer, Nail Nasibulin, of recruiting young people to join his “pseudo-Hindu organisation".
The 44-year-old claims he was bundled into a police car and ordered to sign a blank piece of paper, which he refused to do.
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.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies