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How and why are priests being persecuted in Belarus?

2023 2023-10-17T16:46:40+0300 2023-10-17T16:46:40+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The law On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations is being changed in Belarus. This is an attempt by the state to control religion even more. Unfortunately, the repression against religious figures does not stop, but keeps increasing.

According to the monitoring data of Christian Vision, as of October 11, 2023, at least 60 priests suffered due to political persecution "during the crisis in Belarus".

Which priests are political prisoners now?

At least four men who are or were involved in religious service are now in captivity due to political persecution.

Siarhei Rezanovich

Orthodox priest, rector of the Church of St. Archangel Michael in the agro-town of Stsiapanki, Žabinkauski district (Brest region) Siarhei Rezanovich was sentenced to 16 years in a medium-security penal colony and fined 19,200 rubles. He was found guilty under Part 2 of Article 285 of the Criminal Code (participation in a criminal organization), Part 1 of Article 14 and Part 2 of Article 357 of the Criminal Code (attempt to seize state power unconstitutionally), Part 1 of Article 13 and Part 3 of Article 295 of the Criminal Code (illegal actions involving objects whose damaging effect is based on the use of combustible substances committed by a group of persons).

Together with him, his wife Liubou (15 years in prison) and son Pavel (19 years in prison) were also convicted.

Yauhen Hlushkou

A former clergyman (sexton) of the parish of the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Lady in the village of Prybytki of the Homel district, Yauhen Hlushkou, was sentenced to nine years in a medium-security penal colony for photographs of the airfield in Zyabrouka. He was found guilty of treason against the state (Part 1 of Article 356) and the promotion of extremist activities (Part 1 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code).

Uladzislau Beladzed

A criminal case was opened against seminarian Uladzislau Beladzed on incitement of hostility (Article 130 of the Criminal Code). He was arrested several times in a row for 15 days. After 30 days spent in Akrestsina, Uladzislau looked like a man who had been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment.

Aliaksandr Tarasenka

The former hieromonk of the Homel St. Nicholas Monastery, Aliaksandr Tarasenka, was punished with two years of imprisonment in a general security colony. He was found guilty under Article 368 of the Criminal Code (insulting Lukashenka).

Who else has been convicted in criminal cases?

Some of the priests were behind bars, but they were sentenced to non-custodial sentences. 

Maksim Stasilevich

The minister of the Gethsemane Church of Evangelical Christians in Minsk Maksim Stasilevich was sentenced to two years and six months of restriction of freedom without being sent to an open-type correctional institution (home confinement)

Vital Chychmarou with his family

Pastor of the Light of Hope Baptist Church Vital Chychmarou was found guilty under Article 342 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to three years of home confinement.

Andrei Mamoika, an elder of the Novaya Ziamlia Baptist Church, and his wife Vera were also sentenced to home confinement. Political prisoners were tried under Part 1 of Article 342 (organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order, or active participation in them) of the Criminal Code. Judge Viktoryia Shabunia sentenced each of them to two years and six months of restriction of freedom without referral to an open-type correctional institution (home confinement).

How are clergymen tried in administrative cases?

Compared to last year, the administrative persecution of priests has significantly increased.

Uladzislau Bahamolnikau, a teacher of the Minsk Theological Academy, an Orthodox priest, was detained in August 2022. In 2020, he held a service at the Square of Changes for the repose of Raman Bandarenka, and Bahamolnikau also declared a hunger strike in support of a political prisoner Ihar Losik. The priest spent seven administrative arrests in a row (more than 100 days) in Akrestsina.

In September 2022, church pastor Anatol Bokun was fined 3,200 rubles.

In November 2022, priest Vital Chabatar, vice-dean of the Mahileu Dean's Office, vicar of the parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Mahileu, was sentenced to a 15-day arrest. Apparently, the reason for the arrest of the priest was his actions on social media. 

Vital Chabatar

Also in November 2022, a 12-day arrest was imposed on priest Ihar Kandratsieu.

In May 2023, two Roman Catholic priests from the Miory Deanery were detained. The rector of the parish of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Miory, Andrei Kulik, spent three days in the status of a detainee. Priest Viachaslau Adamovich was punished with a seven-day arrest for reposts on social media.

Viachaslau Adamovich

In June 2023, Greek Catholic priest Aliaksandr Shautsou was punished with a 45-day arrest. He was tried for reposting materials of the Charter-97 website on his Vkontakte social media page (Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code: distribution of information products containing calls for extremist activity). 

Aliaksandr Shautsou
The court of the Čašniki district sentenced Aliaksandr Zaretski, pastor of the Evangelical Christian Church in Navalukoml, to 15 days of detention. The reason was the "dissemination of extremist materials" (Part 2 of Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code) through likes and comments on materials from Internet resources recognized as "extremist".

A priest from Navahrudak, Yuryi Zhaharyn, was fined for reposting a 2016 publication. On July 17, 2023, the Navahrudak District Court considered a case of an administrative offense under Part 2 of Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code against a priest who in 2021 liked an "extremist" page and reposted from it. An administrative penalty was imposed on the priest in the form of a 555 roubles fine with confiscation of the subject of an administrative offense (a mobile phone).

In August 2023, Antoni Adamovich, a priest from Ščučyn region, was arrested. The rector of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Peršamajsk was tried under Article 19.11 Part 2 (distribution of extremist materials).

Antoni Adamovich

A church official was fined for not adhering to the route of the procession. On September 15, 2023, the judge of the Beshankovičy District Court, Katsiaryna Matskevich, imposed a 740 rubles fine on the assistant the rural dean responsible for the construction of churches of the Holy Prophet Elijah, local resident Mikalai Bondar for not adhering to the route of the procession agreed with the authorities. In the summer, a group of ten people marched along a rural road in the Ščučynski district of the Hrodna region. The event was sanctioned by the Hrodna Regional Executive Committee, but it is possible that the participants voluntarily changed the route of the procession, thereby they violated the requirement of the law On Mass Events.

Hrodna priest Andrei Nazdryn was fined for "spreading extremism." Judge Alena Toustsik-Samoila imposed a fine of 555 roubles on the priest. A "crime weapon", his mobile phone, was confiscated. 

Andrei Nazdryn

Dzmitryi Shaviakou, an evangelical pastor from Dzisna, was fined 740 rubles in September 2023.

How else is religion persecuted?

A new wave of repression has affected the religious community in the context of the war in Ukraine. Priests are fined and imprisoned for several days for anti-war actions, appeals, reposts, comments, and likes. For example, in January 2023, priest Dyianisii Karastaliou was detained because of a prayer for the defenders of Ukraine.

Because of the pressure, priests are forced to leave the country and lose their jobs. Entire religious institutions are being persecuted. Thus, in September 2022, the Red Church was closed, in July 2023, the Minsk arch-cathedral church named after the Blessed Virgin Mary was searched. Minsk City Executive Committee filed a lawsuit on the dissolution of the New Life church. Back in August 2023, the pastor of the church Viachaslau Hancharenka was punished with a 10-day arrest under Articles 24.3 and 19.1 of the Administrative Code and the social media of the New Life were recognized as ”extremist".

Separately, we must mention the political persecution of a song. Singing Mighty God (Mahutny Bozha), which has become a real national anthem among many Belarusians, was repeatedly forbidden at religious celebrations. It is known that in October 2023, Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption detained a Minsk resident Katsiaryna Shapavalava, who in 2020 sang Mighty God near the Philharmonic.

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