A blow for religious freedoms comes in Belarus

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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