13 November 2003
President Aleksandr Lukashenko has implied that Belarus is an Orthodox nation. However this is strongly disputed by those who point to the long history and present existence on Belarusian territory of other confessions. It has been suggested to Forum 18 News Service by an anonymous Orthodox source that the reason for the President's claim is that he "can't reject religion outright as it is too significant, so he needs to be able to rely on it." So, "he takes the first thing which comes to hand and is the largest – the Orthodox Church – not because he is Orthodox or because he cares about the Church but only because of that." An anonymous Protestant source agreed that politicians in Belarus were trying to use the Orthodox Church for political purposes.
4 November 2003
Forum 18 News Service has learnt that a Belarusian government list of 16 banned religious organisations includes the British-based Ahmadiyya, who are generally considered to a sect of Islam. State officials reportedly "do not register sects of Christianity or Islam as there will be conflicts between them," Forum 18 was told. Even if a group has state registration, it can still encounter state opposition such as that experienced by the charismatic Full Gospel Association. The Association has been officially classed as a "neo-mystical religious-political destructive sect" whose growth poses "a significant threat to the individual, society and state" of Belarus.
30 October 2003
The Greek Catholic Church has no registered central body in Belarus under the 2002 religion law, so officially its two monasteries "do not exist", Forum 18 News Service has been told. Under the same law, the church's 15 registered parishes are not considered to have any legal relationship with each other. Also, because the church's centre is not in Belarus but in the Vatican, the law prevents central registration and the current head of the church being its head, because he is not a Belarusian citizen. Even if the Greek Catholics had a registered central body, its monasteries still could not legally exist because they do not have the legal minimum number of fully professed monks. The local state official commented to Forum 18 that only fully professed monks could legally count because "Novices might leave at any moment, or their mummies could come and take them home".
3 September 2003
After police broke up an open air Baptist evangelistic service in southern Moscow, a court ruled on 11 August that the singing and praying "disturbed public order and the peace of those relaxing nearby". One Baptist was fined 16 US dollars after police claim he swore at them, a charge denied by local Baptists. "Believers don't swear," Veniamin Khorev told Forum 18 News Service. He described the breaking up of the service as "part of the normal life of our church". As the Baptists refuse to register with the authorities they have no legal status and in practice cannot rent buildings for worship. Their evangelistic events have been disrupted across Russia this summer, with books confiscated, tents taken down, six church members detained for five days and four fined.
27 August 2003
Fr Sergi Golovanov, who teaches religion to five children in his Eastern-rite Catholic parish in the Siberian city of Omsk with permission from their parents, could be fined up to 66 US dollars for failing to supply such parental permission in writing. The local justice department demanded he present such written permission by 15 August, but Fr Sergi refused, arguing that the country's religion law nowhere declares that parental permission must be in writing. However, local religious affairs official Vasili Tkach insisted to Forum 18 News Service that the authorities were acting in accordance with the law.
29 July 2003
In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in Russia, Forum 18 News Service reports on the extensive variations of religious freedom policy in Russia, noting that when decisions are made which violate believers' rights, they are largely informed by the political agendas and personal loyalties of local politicians. The particular nature of a religious belief seems to play little role in restrictions – such as visa bars being imposed - groups being far more likely to be targeted if they are dynamic and visible, whatever their beliefs. Centrally, the state is not so much concerned about actual control over the legitimate activity of citizens as in having potential control over activity, so violations of religious freedom may not appear as dramatic as in many other states in the region. The trend of low-level discrimination looks set to continue unchallenged.
28 July 2003
RUSSIA: Allegations against Komi Patriarchate diocese ignored, but breakaway Orthodox allegations investigated
Local state officials in Komi are said to be assisting the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese in its dispute with the local Russian Orthodox Church Abroad community, according to the abbot of the Votcha-based breakaway monastic community, Fr Stefan (Babayev). Forum 18 News Service has confirmed that neither the monastery nor its associated parish have received state registration. Claims have also been made that, in contrast to local state authorities investigation of allegations against both the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and Baptist (See F18News 22 July 2003) communities, allegations of criminal practices within a local Moscow Patriarchate monastery have not been investigated.
24 July 2003
State interrogations of members of the breakaway Orthodox community at Komi and those associated with them are claimed to have continued, Forum 18 News Service has learnt, including attempts to intimidate teenage school children, as well as municipal employees, who attend services at the monastery. This has taken place even after an apparently conclusive court ruling in the monastery's favour.
24 July 2003
An Orthodox monastery and parishioners have been harassed by local state authorities since they broke from the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese of Syktyvkar and Vorkuta to join the US-based Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Forum 18 News Service has seen a video of the local Moscow Patriarchate bishop trying with a police escort to go to the monstery, and of the bishop accusing the breakaway clergy of theft and of being "American fascists". Both the patriarchal diocese and local state authorities then launched failed law suits against the monastery, aimed at seizing a wooden church built after the breakaway took place.
23 July 2003
For the past six years the local administration of Komi in north-east European Russia has banned completion of both Russia's largest Baptist Church and a nearby centre for the physically disabled. Forum 18 News Service has discovered that the Baptist's problems started after a visit by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksi II. The latest obstacle placed by authorities in the way of completion of the church is a sales tax demand for three million roubles (approximately 100,000 US dollars, 730,000 Norwegian Kroner or 88,000 Euros) - even though the church has never been sold. Although local authorities are also preventing completion of the centre for the physically disabled, which the Baptists have now decided to give to the local authority, the local religious affairs adviser had high praise for the Baptists' charitable work.
9 July 2003
Before the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Religion or Belief on 17-18 July 2003, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org/ surveys some of the more serious abuses of religious freedom that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration.
4 July 2003
At the same time as five US citizens working with the evangelical Kostroma Christian Church were denied Russian visas last summer, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that another US citizen working in the city with the Christian humanitarian aid organisation Children's HopeChest was denied a visa. And US preacher Bill Norton, who used to visit Kostroma's Family of God church twice a year, has been barred from entry three times since last summer, making Kostroma – with seven visa denials - the location in Russia associated with the greatest number of known foreign church worker expulsions. Pastor Andrei Danilov told Forum 18 that the Russian Foreign Ministry had barred Norton "in connection with a threat to national security".