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24 June 2003

BELARUS: New concordat gives Orthodox enhanced status

The 12 June concordat between the Orthodox Church and the state has given the Orthodox extensive influence in state bodies, with Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk hailing it as "a blank cheque to develop co-operation programmes with all branches of power". Forum 18 News Service notes that the concordat means the state now accepts the Orthodox designation of Belarus as its "canonical territory", and commits the state and the Church to work together in "the common fight against pseudo-religious structures". Although the final text no longer contains "anti-constitutional provisions" such as immunity from prosecution and media censorship powers for Orthodox clergy, member of parliament Ivan Pashkevich told Forum 18 he was worried that they will be incorporated into subsequent agreements between the Orthodox Church and individual state bodies which will be closed to public scrutiny.

20 June 2003

BELARUS: New spate of Pentecostal fines

Aleksandr Tolochko was fined 34 US dollars in Grodno on 4 June as part of the latest crackdown on Pentecostal home meetings in various towns and villages of western Belarus. "He hasn't paid the fine yet – he doesn't earn enough to pay it," Bishop Fyodor Tsvor of Grodno region told Forum 18 News Service. Among others fined were two Pentecostal women in Baranovichi, one a pensioner and one an invalid. Bishop of Brest region Nikolai Kurkaev blamed the highly restrictive new religion law. "You see the new law is working already," he told Forum 18. Igor Popov, religious affairs officials for Grodno region, denied to Forum 18 there is a campaign against Pentecostals but insisted all unregistered religious meetings are illegal.

10 June 2003

BELARUS: Armed police break up Hindu meditation

Armed police broke up a Hindu ritual and meditation evening in a private flat in the capital Minsk on 1 June, the group's leader Natalya Solovyova told Forum 18 News Service. The raid came exactly a week after a similar meditation meeting was broken up elsewhere in the city. The Hindu community has not been fined for meeting together, but Solovyova says members were warned that "if it occurs again, we will go on their police records, and legal consequences will begin the time after that." These raids have forced the Hindu community to move from flat to flat "like nomads", she added. No national or local religious affairs officials could explain why the religious meetings were forcibly broken up.

3 June 2003

BELARUS: Pentecostal evangelist to challenge fine

After a night-time visit by two police officers and a religious affairs official to an address rented by the Pentecostal Union in Zheludok, local evangelist Mikhail Balyk was fined 13 US dollars for allegedly conducting worship services in the town. Balyk told Forum 18 News Service that no worship services were taking place at the address cited - a domestic residence – and is preparing to appeal. His lawyer Dina Shavtsova told Forum 18 that unregistered religious organisations are often fined in this way, up to a maximum of 35 dollars. The main victims are small, established groups in rural areas.

30 May 2003

BELARUS: Who shapes up to new religion law?

In the wake of the restrictive new religion law which came into force last November, despite widespread protests from believers, Forum 18 News Service has discovered that very few educational or monastic communities of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches currently meet the tough new restrictions. Few monastic communities have the required minimum ten members, while no educational institutions have a full teaching staff who know both state languages, Russian and Belarusian. If they want to continue to operate, they must make substantial changes before the re-registration deadline of 16 November 2004.

2 April 2003

BELARUS: Non-Moscow Orthodox "banned" from registering

State officials insist that the True Orthodox Church, which has three parishes and some 300 adherents, does not exist in Belarus. "There are no such parishes. There is no such Church," Aleksandr Kalinov of the government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs told Forum 18 News Service. Not only parishes of the True Orthodox Church, but those of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church have been denied the right to register, while Belarus' president has vowed to use all state forces to protect the unity of the Moscow Patriarchate's Exarchate in the country. "Officially there is no ban on registering Orthodox parishes which are outside the framework of the Moscow Patriarchate," Oleg Gulak of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee told Forum 18. "But in practice – of course there is."

2 April 2003

BELARUS: True Orthodox battle on for legal worship

Fr Leonid Plyats, priest of the True Orthodox parish of St John of Kronstadt near Minsk, told Forum 18 News Service that his community will fight on to be able to worship openly and legally despite the rejection on 27 March of his parish's suit to overturn the denial of registration. Denis Yelizarev of the government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs insisted that the Committee's assessment against the parish had been correct. "They slandered other faiths, that's why they were banned."

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