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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

BELARUS: First-ever Old Believer Church in Minsk "inexpedient"

After struggling since 1998 for a church, Minsk's Pomore Old Believers were in March 2022 denied building permission. Minsk District Executive Committee Head Vladimir Yurgevich claimed it was "inexpedient", and that completed building plans were not lodged by an August 2021 deadline. The community insists no such deadline was mentioned during meetings with officials in 2021 and 2022. They think officials consulted the Belarusian Orthodox Church before rejecting the plans. The regime often creates property problems for religious communities it dislikes.

BELARUS: Christian leaders opposing regime violence and war on Ukraine targeted

Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders have been targeted for opposing regime violence after the 2020 election fraud, or opposing Belarus' role in Russia's war against Ukraine. The homes of several Catholic priests were raided in late March 2022. One was given a 10-day jail term, while another had to flee the country. A human rights defender observed that they are targeted "as they have authority in their community and work with a wide range of people, including young people."

BELARUS: Soldiers' mothers detained for prayers for end to war on Ukraine

Police in Minsk refused to say why they and OMON riot police were present in and around the city's main Orthodox cathedral on 3 March when about 100 soldiers' mothers attended regular evening prayers to pray for peace in neighbouring Ukraine. Officers checked the identity and photographed some of them before the service. Afterwards they detained four and questioned them at Central District Police Station for four hours. Police came the following day to the home of a fifth, but she was not at home. It remains unknown if the women will face punishment. A journalist and her husband were detained at the cathedral and jailed for 15 days.

BELARUS: UN appeal for fined conscientious objector

In December 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked Belarus to respond in the case of 33-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Dmitry Mozol. In February 2021, a court in Pinsk fined him four months' wages for refusing call-up to reservist military training on grounds of conscience. He failed to overturn the criminal punishment on appeal. The law allows only individuals who have completed alternative civilian service to be exempted from reservist military training. Alternative service was introduced only in 2016, after Mozol was initially called up. Jehovah's Witnesses fear that other young men could also face such prosecution.

BELARUS: "We, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the church .."

Prison officials finally allowed Catholic political prisoner Mikita Yemialyianau a pastoral visit on 3 November. He had just ended a three-week hunger strike in protest at the denial of a clergy visit since his transfer to Mogilev prison in 2020. Prison officials prevented him from renewing a subscription to a Catholic newspaper. Prison officials finally allowed Orthodox Christian Yelena Movshuk a clergy visit in October, her first since her August 2020 arrest. Prison officials prevented her attending a worship meeting in August 2021. "We, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the church, the gym or places of study," a political prisoner freed in September declared.

BELARUS: Administrative, criminal charges for evicted Church's outdoor worship?

At a meeting in Parliament and two letters, officials warned New Life Pentecostal Church that continuing to meet for worship in the car park of their seized church in Minsk could lead to administrative or criminal prosecution (maximum punishment four years' imprisonment). The Church vows to continue its worship. "The authorities may initiate criminal charges as they told us at the Council of the Republic meeting," Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko told Forum 18. "This is possible, given that they have gone as far as throwing us out of the building without compensation and imposing debts." City and state religious affairs officials refused to discuss the threats.

BELARUS: "To put the church in its place"

As more human rights defenders are jailed, others protesting against election falsification and regime violence are also targeted. The Belarusian Orthodox Church has fired many priests including Archbishop Artemy of Grodno, who spoke of a "general purge" as "not all church figures support the existing regime". Among others targeted, Catholic priest Fr Vyacheslav Barok fled to Poland. A public prosecutor claimed it is illegal to give Fr Barok a copy of an official warning he was read. The regime tried to stop singing of the hymn Mighty God and organised instead a pro-regime "prayer day".

BELARUS: Political prisoners' freedom of religion or belief restricted

The regime's many political prisoners are frequently denied clergy visits and access to religious literature, against both Belarusian law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules). Arrested in March, Olga Zolotar repeatedly requested a visit from a Catholic priest, but the Investigative Committee refused. Finally, in June officials allowed a visit by the Vatican nuncio. "The denial of access of priests to political prisoners who are religious, and the use of discriminatory and repressive measures against them are unacceptable .. and grossly violate one of the fundamental human rights," Christian Vision notes.

BELARUS: Bailiffs, police evict Church

Bailiffs accompanied by police used an angle grinder and a crowbar on 17 February to gain access to Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church to evict it. Officials told the Church they were enforcing a 2009 court order. Aleksey Petrukovich, who signed the enforcement order, refused to explain why the eviction happened, and why force was used. "I am indignant. This is a hostile takeover of church property with the excuse of official papers," Sergiy Melyanets, a member of a different Church who witnessed the eviction, told Forum 18.

BELARUS: Regime allows Archbishop's Christmas return

On 24 December, the regime allowed Belarus' senior Catholic leader, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, to return to his own country after barring him for 16 weeks. He will lead Christmas Masses in Minsk. The return followed a plea from Pope Francis, delivered to Aleksandr Lukashenko by the former Nuncio on 17 December. Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei – who had been present at the meeting – spoke of "a range of negative elements" connected with the Archbishop.

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, October 2020

Before the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Belarus on 2 November, Forum 18's freedom of religion and belief survey analysis notes continuing violations of this freedom and of interlinked freedoms. These have worsened amid widespread continuing protests against falsified results of the August 2020 presidential election, and against the regime's other serious violations of the human rights of the people it rules.

BELARUS: Another Catholic priest banned from serving

Belarus' senior state religious affairs official gave the Catholic bishop of Vitebsk one day's notice that he was annulling permission for Polish priest Jerzy Wilk to serve in his parish, giving no reason. Fr Wilk has served in Belarus since 2003. The State Border Committee told Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz he was denied re-entry because his Belarusian passport was invalid. The Interior Ministry then said it was checking if he gained citizenship lawfully.