Monitoring of Violations of Christians’ Rights in January – July 2007 (Excerpts)
10 US missionaries were fined or warned for violation of the rules of residence of foreigners in the Republic of Belarus and then deported from the country.
On 9 February in Mahiliou during the classes that were held within the framework of the ‘English for All’ action the police detained 10 American citizens and drew on them reports under article 185 of the Administrative Code, ‘violation of the rules of residence of foreigners in the Republic of Belarus’.
The foreign teachers were invited to Mahiliou by a Christian charitable organization Stefan. On 12 February the ten teachers were fined 31 000 Belarusian rubles (about 14 US dollars) each for violation of the rules of residence of foreigners in Belarus.
On 18 February the missionaries were deported from the Republic of Belarus and banned entrance for two years. The decision on deportation and entrance ban was issued on 15 February by Aliaksandr Vasilieu, the chair of the department of citizenship and migration of Kastrychnitski district police department of Mahiliou.
Minsk city executive committee banned a picket for freedom of conscience.
Minsk city executive committee refused to authorize a picket that was aimed at drawing public attention to freedom of conscience in Belarus. The picket organizers were informed about the authorization refusal by representatives of the main police department of Minsk city executive committee. ‘They are of the opinion that holding the picket in Svabody Square in Minsk will hinder the movement of pedestrians along the pavements’, said a picket organizer Aliaksei Shein. On 5 April 2007 Shein submitted to Minsk city executive committee an application for authorization of a picket on 20 April. The picket organizers intended to hold it at 5.00 -7.30 p.m. in Svabody square with drawing about 50 participants.
On 22 April the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience was started in Belarus. Religious activists started collecting signatures for amending the law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations.
At the press conference marking the campaign’s beginning the floor was taken by the bishop of the Full Evangel Christian Denominations in the Republic of Belarus Viachaslau Hancharenka, an orthodox priest of the St. Intercession Church Aliaksandr Shramko, the pastor of the Evangelic Church God’s Church of the Union of Evangelic Belief Christians Henadz Kernazhytski, the pastor of Jesus Christ Church of the Religious association of denominations of Full Evangel Christians Barys Charnahlaz, the co-chairman of the Organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Aliaksei Shein and the lawyer of the New Life Church Siarhei Lukanin.
The participants of the press conference emphasized that the campaign was aimed at protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens.
The initiators of the campaign on collection of signatures pointed at the obstacles to the activity of foreign priests in Belarus (most often this problem concerns representatives of Catholic and Protestant churches), the impossibility to receive building sites for churches, bans on reconstruction of the existing buildings into temples and on building churches on the owned land pieces.
The orthodox priest Aliaksandr Shramko stated that Christians were deprived of the legal right to gather for Biblical readings and home prayers and faced obstacles in organization of Sunday schools. ‘The law pushes the denominations to ghetto and isolates churches from the society. The present law on religions contains more negative moments than positive ones… It’s worth mentioning that not all Orthodox parishes feel the pressure of the law, but those who want to actively develop, maintain missionary activity and increase their influence in the society are strictly limited by this law and do not have such possibilities,’ the priest commented.
As a result of the campaign on collection of signatures a petition for amendment of the present law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations will be passed to the Constitutional Court.
The US citizen, foreign missionary Decker Travis Todd was deported from Belarus.
The Christian missionary Decker Travis Todd was deported from Belarus. The formal reason for the deportation was the decision of the ministry of internal affairs to annul the temporary residence permit for Mr. Todd. ‘According to information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs #40/15c of 28.02.2007 the abovementioned foreign citizen has relation to the activities aimed at damage to the state security of the Republic of Belarus’ is stated in the text of the conclusion for the permit annulment. It is not specified which activities of Decker Travis Todd were qualified as ‘damage to the state security’.
The missionary worked in a charitable NGO and went to a Protestant church in Minsk. Deportation of foreign priests already becomes large-scale in Belarus. Most often the official documents describe the reasons as ‘threat to the national security’. The deportations seem to take place on informal orders of the state security bodies.
The authorities of the town of Zelva in Hrodna oblast refuse to authorize the reconstruction of a prayer house.
The Church of Evangelic Baptist Christians in the town of Zelva in Hrodna oblast cannot reconstruct the building of their church according to their needs because of the refusal of the local authorities to give an official permission for it. The prayer house of the Baptist parish was built in the 1920-ies and was consecrated in 1932. During the soviet times it was turned into a Culture Palace and then into a weave workshop. In 1992 the house was returned to believers.
Having received an official refusal to construction of a new prayer house the believers decided to fix the old one, but even this step was banned by the authorities. As soon as the denomination started the roof repairs they were stopped by the State Building Supervision.
‘They do not consider the architect’s permission as a valuable argument. We have been struggling for our rights for more than two years already, but there is still no result. The local Pentecostal church has the same problems. Most probably, the authorities fear that after reconstruction of the temples we will be able to draw more people to our denomination,’ commented the pastor of the Church of Evangelic Baptist Christians of Zelva Viktar Sabchuk.
The authorities refuse to lend a building to a church.
Minsk denomination of the Evangelic Christians John the Precursor applied to Tsentralny district executive committee of Minsk for authorization of prayer meetings in the Culture House of Trade Unions in Minsk. On 25 June the denomination received a refusal signed by the deputy chair of the executive committee Mikalai Bury. There it was stated that it was impossible to combine the weekly masses of the denomination with the main directions of the activity of the Culture House of Trade Unions aimed at the cultural serving of the population.
According to the pastor of St. John the Precursor Churh Antoni Bokun, the church applied to Tsentralny district executive committee of Minsk for authorization of masses on the ground floor of house #54 in Dolhinauski tract, where the masses were served. They intended to hold the masses with participation of up to 25 believers on 8 July. According to the law the answer to them was to have been given by 3 July, but was sent a week later. As said by the priest, the authorities motivated their refusal with conclusions of the district center of hygiene and epidemiology and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. According to Bokun, the building was not visited by any representatives of the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the workers of the hygiene and epidemiology center held their inspection in the evening of 4 July, after the expiry of the legal term for answering the request.
KGB confiscates signature lists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of consciousness.
On 5 July, during a search in the apartment of a leader of the Young Front Ivan Shyla in the town of Salihorsk in Minsk oblast KGB workers confiscated signature lists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience. They also confiscated a computer, white-red-white flags and other personal belongings of the activist. This search was already the second within a month’s term.
The Young Front is an unregistered organization that promotes the Christian principles and Belarusian patriotism.
14 activists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience were detained by the police and KGB in the town of Budslau in Minsk oblast
On 2 July in the town of Budslau in Miadzel district of Minsk oblast a regular mass holiday of the Belarusian Catholics was taking place. 14 activists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience belonging to different confessions were detained there for collecting signatures in defense of St. Joseph Church in Minsk and putting the law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
The detained activists spent about three hours at the police department of Budslau. The police confiscated from them about 500 copies of the Courier of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience and put down their explanations in presence of the KGB workers. A report for distribution of printed editions without output data was drawn on a campaign coordinator Siarhei Lukanin.
The leaders of the Organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party and the activists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience were detained in Minsk.
On 3 July a search was conducted in the office of the Organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. The police confiscated documents and books. The detainees spent more than eight hours at Frunzenski district police department of Minsk.
At first the police burst into the office of the Organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party and detained the secretary of the committee Dzianis Sadouski. The search was performed by two persons in mufti. They did not introduce themselves and refused to explain the reasons for the search.
Later, at about 3 p.m. the police detained there the co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Aliaksei Shein, the lawyer of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience Siarhei Lukanin and two under-aged activists. The under-aged girls were released when their parents came to the police department. The rest were detained for about eight hours.
The press-secretary of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience, layer Siarhei Lukanin sued the workers of Frunzenski district police department of Minsk major Pavel Kaliada and senior lieutenant Mikhail Kurakevich because of the illegal detention.
In Mahiliou Siarhei Hirkin was detained by the police for handing out the Courier of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience.
On 20 July the activist of the BPF Party Siarhei Hirkin was detained for handing out a special issue of the Сourier of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience. He was taken to the police department where his blood pressure suddenly went up. The policemen had to call an ambulance. The medics diagnosed Hirkin with hypertensive crisis and proposed to take him to the hospital, but he refused.
At the police he received a call-up for an interrogation at Leninski district police department of Mahiliou on 9 a.m., 23 July. During the interrogation senior lieutenant Aleh Pakhomenka drew on Hirkin a report for handing out the courier (distribution of a printed edition without output data). The activist can be fined for up to 1,5 million rubles (about 720 US dollars). A human rights activist Barys Bukhel, representative of Hirkin’s interests, was not admitted to the interrogation.
The co-chairmen of the Organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Pavel Seviarynets and Aliaksei Shein were imprisoned for 15 days.
On 23 July the co-chairmen of the organizing committee for the establishment of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Pavel Seviarynets and Aliaksei Shein were detained at the entrance of a tube station in Minsk and sentenced to 15 days of jail.
The reason for the detention was ‘suspicion in a theft from an apartment’, the violation report was drawn for ‘distribution of printed editions without output data’ and the penalty was issued by Frunzenski district court of Minsk for ‘calls to holding an unauthorized mass action’.
The detention was conducted on the eve of the meeting of the BCD leaders with the Ambassadors of the European states. The European Commission and the US Embassy in Belarus issued official notes of protest concerning the lawless detention and arrest of the activists.
On the State Sovereignty Declaration Day in Minsk the police detained the activists of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience.
At about 4 p.m. on 27 July the parishioners of the New Life Church Zmitser Butenka and Andrei Litvinau were detained near St.Symon and Alena Church in the center of Minsk. They came there to collect signatures for amendment of the law On freedom of conscience and religious organizations. The activists were stopped by a policeman and a person in mufti who asked them to open their bags. Zmitser and Andrei obeyed. In Litvinau’s bag there were about 30 copies of the informational Courier of the Campaign For protection of the right to freedom of conscience. On seeing them the man in mufti ordered the policeman to detain the believers. They were taken to a bus by the riot policemen who were standing nearby. Then the detainees were driven to Maskouski district police department of Minsk on a police car.
At the police department a police captain drew on them a report for distribution of the printed edition. In their explanations Zmitser and Andrei disproved this accusation. They were kept at the police department for about 2,5 hours.
Jaroslaw Lukasik’s Case
On 8 May 2007 the police department of Miadzel district executive committee annulled the permanent residence permit to a member of the church of the Association of Evangelic Christians, citizen of Poland Jaroslaw Lukasik. He was also ordered to leave Belarus within a month’s term. Lukasik was accused in the ‘activities aimed at damage to the national security of the Republic of Belarus in the field of inter-confessional relations’.
Jaroslaw Lukasik and his wife, citizen of the Republic of Belarus Natallia Lukasik, have three children: Yan, Martsin and Mira, also citizens of Belarus. Natallia Lukasik has addressed an open letter to the citizenship and migration department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the administration of the president of the Republic of Belarus asking them to reverse the annulment of the residence permit to her husband not to break the family.
On 17 May 29 priests including the bishop of the Association of Evangelic Christians in Minsk and Minsk oblast Siarhei Tsvor and the bishop of the Association of denominations of the Full Evangel Christian Denominations in the Republic of Belarus Viachaslau Hancharenka sent an analogical request to the citizenship and migration department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the administration of the president of the Republic of Belarus and expressed their concern with the fact that deportations of foreign priests had acquired a systematic nature.
On 18 May the citizen of Poland Jaroslaw Lukasik applied to court with a request to reverse the ‘illegal ruling of Miadzel district police department of 08.05.2007 on annulment of the permanent residence permit on the territory of the Republic of Belarus’ that violated the rights of a large family.
On 26 June Tsentralny district court of Minsk rejected the priest’s complaint. The judge Tatsiana Pauliuchuk did not admit to the trial Lukasik’s lawyer Siarhei Lepesh.
On 27 May, during a Sunday meeting 15 policemen and KGB agents burst into a house where the masses of the Protestant church St. John the Precursor were served. They demanded to stop the mass and ordered all foreigners to go out.
Then the police detained the Polish priest Jaroslaw Lukasik, took him to Tsentralny district police department of Minsk and drew on him a report for holding an unauthorized mass. ‘The citizen of Poland Jaroslaw Lukasik maintained religious activities as a preacher of the Evangelic Christian Church of St. John the Precursor without agreement of the Committee on religious and national affairs, thus violating the rules of residence of foreign citizens in the Republic of Belarus,’ was written in the police report.
On 30 May the administrative commission of Tsentralny district police department of Minsk ruled to fine the priest 155 000 rubles (about 72 US dollars) for unauthorized religious activity on the basis of the police report of 27 May. The ruling was signed by the head of Tsentralny district police department of Minsk Vital Siniakou.
Believers think that the report against Jaroslaw Lukasik was drawn groundlessly and that no administrative penalties can be given for religious activity.
On the day of Lukasik’s detention a sermon was read by the deputy bishop of the United Church of Evangelic Christians Siarhei Tsvor. Nine members of John The Precursor Church applied to the citizenship and migration department of Tsentralny district police department of Minsk to witness that on 27 May Jaroslaw Lukasik had not participated in the mass as a preacher. Jaroslaw Lukasik also appealed the ruling of the administrative commission of Tsentralny district police department of Minsk.
On 15 June the judge of Miadzel district court Ihar Matashniuk upheld the ruling of the citizenship and migration department of Miadzel district police department to annul the residence permit to the priest of the Evangelic Christian Church, citizen of Poland Jaroslaw Lukasik.
The trial was attended by Jaroslaw’s wife Natallia Lukasik, his friends and the consul of the Republic of Poland. Natallia Lukasik appealed the court verdict to Minsk oblast court.
On 6 June Jaroslaw Lukasik was deported from Belarus. At the railway station he was seen off by more than 100 people including believers, Protestant pastors and friends. At the departure the priest said that the cooperation of Christians would continue with the aim to make Belarus Christian, free and happy.
On 28 June Natallia, Yan, Martsin and Mira Lukasiks left for Poland following Jaroslaw Lukasik.
Antoni Bokun’s Case
On 27 May the Protestant pastor Antoni Bokun was detained and put to the remand prison in Akrestsin Street in Minsk for the night before trial. Antoni Bokun was detained at a solemn mass in honor of the Whitsunday. About 15 policemen and KGB agents burst into the building of the Evangelic Christian Church of St. John the Precursor. A car with the riot police and a police patrol car were parked near the church. During the mass the KGB and the police made illegal video shots. For instance, they shot the sermon of the bishop of Evangelic Christians in Minsk oblast Siarhei Tsvor who was invited to the church that day. The ‘guests’ refused to show their documents as well as the warrants for the search and the video shots.
The priest Antoni Bokun was taken to Tsentralny district police department of Minsk. A report for unauthorized mass was drawn on him. Then the deputy chair of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Leanid Yasinovich ruled to fine the pastor 620 000 rubles (about 288 US dollars). About 100 believers of Evangelic churches of Minsk came to the court entrance to support the priest, including his wife Natallia and five-year-old son Adam. The trial was attended by about ten pastors and the bishop of the Union of Full Evangel Christians, pastor of the Minsk-based New Life Church Viachaslau Hancharenka.
At 11.50 a.m. on 3 June the pastor of St. John the Precursor Church Antoni Bokun was detained during ministration of the Holy Communion in house #54a in Dolhinauski Tract in Minsk.
The policemen who conducted the detention refused to introduce themselves. Being asked about the reasons, they answered that a trial or investigation would take place at Tsentralny district police department of Minsk. At the police department they drew on Bokun a report for ‘unauthorized assembly’ and then took the pastor to the remand prison in Akrestsin Street in Minsk.
The following day, on 4 June, the judge of Tsentralny district court of Minsk Tatsiana Pauliuchuk sentenced the pastor Antoni Bokun to three days of jail. Since 3 till 6 June, when the pastor was serving his term, the police refused to pass to the pastor any medicines despite the fact that he had a third-degree hypertension. As a result the workers of the remand jail had to call an ambulance.
The Protestant pastor Antoni Bokun also appealed the verdicts of the judges of Tsentralny district court of Minsk L.Yasinovich and T.Pauliuchuk of 28 May and 4 June. He also appealed the actions of the police, in particular of the senior police lieutenant of Tsentralny district police department of Minsk A.Trushch who on 27 May had drawn on him a report for ‘unauthorized mass’ as a result of which he had been kept in the remand jail two days before the trial and one day after it. Bokun also appealed the actions of the major of Tsentralny district police department A.Radziukevich who had detained him during a mass on 3 June, composed a report for ‘violation of the law of the Republic of Belarus On mass actions and then detained him till trial. The pastor demanded from the court to give a legal evaluation to these actions of the police.
On 25 June Tsentralny district court of Minsk rejected the complaint of the pastor of St. John the Precursor denomination of the United Church of Evangelic Christians in the Republic of Belarus A.Bokun against cruel treatment from the side of the police. The judge Valery Yesman considered the complaint for five minutes. Under the ‘cruel treatment’ the pastor meant his 8-hour stay in the luggage department of the police microbus (about 3 square meters) together with six students who had been detained for an unauthorized procession. Antoni Bokun suffers from third degree hypertension. Despite this, Minsk city court rejected his complaint and upheld the ruling to fine him.
The monitoring was composed according to the information of the Christian Human Rights House and the materials of the Informational Center Evangelic Belarus www.info.belreform.org, the information agency BelaPAN www.belapan.com, the information of the websites www.svaboda.org, www.nn.by, www.charter97.org, www.racyja.pl, www.bchd.info, www.cxbe.by, www.newlife.by, www.racyja.com, www.svabodavery.info, www.mfront.org, www.forreligiousfreedom.info, www.nv-online.info, etc.