Protestant Pastor Fined in Belarus Over "Illegal" Baptisms


Baptizing 70 people in a lake has led to the pastor of one of Belarus' largest Pentecostal churches being fined over $2,000 (or 150 times the minimum wage), Forum 18 News Service has learnt. This is the first time that a congregation of a mainstream Protestant Union has had such a huge fine imposed for religious activity without state permission.

A municipal court in Baranovichi imposed the fine on Pastor Sergei Poznyakovich and fined the Pentecostal Union's bishop for Brest region, Nikolai Kurkayev, a significantly smaller amount. Baranovichi's state official dealing with religious affairs, Ruslan Krutko, told Forum 18 that Pastor Poznyakovich's fine was so large because the church performed similarly unsanctioned baptisms in the same lake in 2005.

Confirming that the authorities had not responded formally to a request to be allowed to perform the baptisms, Krutko nonetheless insisted that official permission must be obtained in advance. A church member commented to Forum 18 that "if we are fined again within a year, the authorities will have grounds to close the church down."

The pastor of one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Belarus has been fined the equivalent of over 150 times the minimum wage for performing baptisms in a local lake. "We didn't manage to appeal against the court's decision in time and now we're deciding what to do next," a member of Salvation Pentecostal Church wishing to remain anonymous recently told Forum 18. "If we are fined again within a year, the authorities will have grounds to close the church down."

Pastor Sergei Poznyakovich baptized some 70 people in a local lake on 2 July, a congregation member told Forum 18 from the small town of Baranovichi (Brest region) in south-west Belarus, where Salvation Pentecostal Church is located. As a result of the baptisms, Judge Oksana Kusheva of Baranovichi Municipal Court on 30 August fined Pastor Poznyakovich 4,650,000 Belarusian rubles ($2,171 US), the congregation member confirmed.

Founded in the 1920s, Salvation Pentecostal Church has some 1,500 adult members. The church holds state registration and worships at its prayer house, an imposing building constructed in the early 1990s.

The baptisms should not have taken place in the lake, "due to a higher than permitted level of bacterial pollution in the water," Ruslan Krutko said. He also claimed that this had been repeatedly explained to Salvation Pentecostal Church prior to the baptisms and alternative sites offered, "but they particularly wanted the lake right next to the church."