A blow for religious freedoms comes in Belarus

By March 27, 2009

Belarus (MNN) — Both International Christian Concern and Forum 18 News are sounding the alarm for believers in Belarus.

The Supreme Court upheld registration requirements for church bodies under the Religion Law.

On March 2nd, Forum 18 explains, the Court rejected an
appeal brought by a Pentecostal pastor against a fine for leading an
unregistered religious organization.

Pastor Valentin Borovik had
argued that the requirement to register broke both the Belarusian Constitution
and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a position
supported by international human-rights lawyers.

Dismissing the appeal out of
hand, however, the Supreme Court's vice-chairman ruled that Borovik's rights to
freedom of conscience "were not violated in any way."

According to Voice of the
Martyrs' Canada, despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and
faiths shall be equal before the law," the law stipulates that all
unregistered religious activity (communities with fewer than 20 members, and
any religious activity in private homes)
are considered illegal. Religious communities that do not have a
registered umbrella body are not able to invite foreign citizens for religious
work, and all religious literature is subject to censorship.

Religious organizations were
required to be re-registered by November 2004. 
However, registration is a difficult process, and many organizations have
been unable to do so.   

Forum 18 also notes that some
church bodies refuse compulsory state registration on theological grounds. The Council of Churches Baptists still insist
on public activity and therefore are particularly subject to prosecution.

A member who recently operated a
Christian street library in Osipovichi (Mogilev [Mahilyow] Region) now plans to
appeal a March 4 local court decision to impose a fine and destroy seized
literature. "The Bible and New Testament are the Word of the Living God,
and so the destruction of these books is sacrilege," Nikolai Poleshchuk
writes in a March 25 open statement. "The dissemination of my convictions
is my lawful right."

On January 11, Poleshchuk and another Baptist were approached by Anna
Zemlyanukhina, the head of Osipovichi District Ideology Department, who told
them they had no right to run a Christian street library as their church is
unregistered, and she called the police.  

Situations like the one in
Osipovichi and others previously covered by MNN are expected to increase. Some of Forum 18's sources question the need for the registration and
expect underground churches to encounter more state harassment. Keep praying for the growing church.

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