A registered Protestant congregation in western Belarus has been fined for activity which officials claim was “not according to its statute,” local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service.
The church held a special prayer service in its registered building, which church members insist was within its statute. Trouble for the New Generation Church began when Baranovichi local Ideology Department officials saw posters in the town advertising the service.
One official and two “witnesses” arrived at the church 30 minutes before the service, but left 10 minutes before it began without witnessing it. The official, Sergei Puzikov of the Ideology Department, refused to explain to Forum 18 what activity was outside the church’s statute, as did the Department’s head.
In defiance of international human rights standards, Belarus bans all unregistered religious activity – including both unregistered communities and unregistered activity by registered communities. Religious activity is kept under close surveillance by the KGB secret police, and officials often issue warnings for activity they claim is illegal. Two such warnings can lead to a religious organisation being closed down.
Belarus has warned a church in the capital Minsk that it could be closed after a foreign pastor preached at a worship service, Forum 18 News Service has learned.
Pastor Boris Grisenko, a Ukrainian, was also fined. Alla Ryabitseva, head of the city’s Department of Religious and Ethnic Affairs, claimed to Forum 18 that “I have been to the United States. Visitors to the country can’t just go and speak at a religious service without permission.”
District police chief Viktor Pravilo refused to say how he had found out that a foreigner was preaching in the New Testament Pentecostal Church, religious communities having long complained to Forum 18 of KGB secret police surveillance. Asked whether the police did not have more important matters to deal with than a foreigner preaching at a religious service, Pravilo put the phone down.
Foreigners engaged in religious activity have long been a target of state hostility, along with their Belarusian co-religionists. Catholic priests and nuns have regularly been expelled, but the authorities today (15 July) announced that they had completed the draft text of a Concordat. It is unknown whether this will address violations of freedom of religion or belief.
Two Danish visitors to Belarus were detained by police and are being deported as they expressed “ideas of a religious nature”, in the words of the deportation order, Forum 18 News Service has learnt.
“We were praying, reading and speaking from the Bible, greeting the people, and praying together,” one of the two, Erling Laursen, told Forum 18. Neither were leading the worship service they attended. Police took video footage of the two praying in Gomel’s charismatic Living Faith Church, but refused to say who had recorded it “to protect our colleague”.
The Church’s pastor Dmitry Podlobko told Forum 18 that a young man he had never seen before filmed a worship service with his mobile phone. Pastor Podlobko said that “it’s not news to us that the security organs are watching. They visit and watch us secretly.”
The KGB secret police closely monitors all religious communities. The deportation of the two Danes – who are banned from Belarus for one year – brings to 31 the number of foreign citizens barred from Belarus in recent years for their religious activity.
The most recent people expelled were four Catholic priests and three nuns, banned at the end of 2008.
Has anyone else noticed how Russia is looking more ‘Soviet’ era with each passing day? It was expected, certainly by me, that when Putin left office that the new guy would be both a clone of the former KGB leader and more than likely a puppet.
With the war that has broken out with Georgia over the breakaway region of Georgia known as South Ossetia, Russia is looking even more like the Soviet era menace that it once was.
Sure, a good number of South Ossetia’s population is Russian, but how quickly has Russia intervened in an ‘internal’ situation of Georgia’s – something which Russia and its friends like China, are quick to use as an argument to not intervene in global troubles. Yet when it is something that Russia feels strongly about, in they go as strongly as they can – hypocrisy on a global scale!
Russia ought to be condemned for its action against Georgia and for encouraging the breakaway region which it alone has recognised as an independent region.
This action by Russia is typical of its usual hardline approach. Think of what it did to Chechnya. It also brings a reminder of the Soviet interventions in Eastern Europe whenever they felt like doing so in the 20th century.