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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: Is regime planning to liquidate New Life Church?

The regime seized and demolished the place of worship of Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church, banned it from meeting outdoors in its car park, jailed its Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko for 10 days and banned its website for six months. On 23 August, a closed court hearing declared two of its internet postings from 2020 "extremist". Asked if the regime is planning to strip the Church of its legal status, Deputy Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Sergei Gerasimenya refused to say.

BELARUS: Threatened with criminal prosecution for sharing faith in public

Prosecutor Fyodor Mikhovich refused to explain why he threatened Baptist Vladimir Burshtyn with criminal prosecution if he continues to share his faith in public. "I do not know who you are," he told Forum 18. The threat came after a court fined Burshtyn a month's average pension for sharing his faith. Border guards detained Greek Catholic Boris Khamaida as he travelled to a pilgrimage. A jail term prevented him from attending. A draft new Religion Law is set to reach Parliament in September.

BELARUS: Pastor jailed – to stop him attending "extremist materials" hearing?

Since 11 July, Minsk's New Life Church faces multiple new regime investigations into a summer camp accident, a renewed massive tax demand it strongly disputes, a website ban, and a court case for publishing allegedly "extremist materials" protesting at election fraud and regime illegality among other things. The regime bulldozed its church building on 20 June. Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko has been jailed until 24 August, possibly to stop him participating in a 23 August "extremist materials" hearing that may be a prelude to the Church being forcibly closed.

BELARUS: Bulldozers destroy Minsk church

Evicted from its church building in February 2021, banned from meeting for worship in the church car park, Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church has now seen its church bulldozed. The bulldozing – ordered by Capital Construction Management Company, owned by Minsk City Executive Committee – began on 20 June, within a day reducing much of the building to rubble. The Company, the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, and Minsk City Executive Committee would not explain why New Life's church building – which it bought in 2002 – was destroyed.

BELARUS: Draft Religion Law "playing on formal appearance of legality"

The regime has published the text of a restrictive draft new Religion Law, due to be discussed by the non-freely elected Parliament in September, which it falsely claims "does not affect" international human rights obligations. Exiled human rights defender and Orthodox priest Fr Aleksandr Shramko described the aim as "to somehow extinguish any pockets of not only possible resistance, but also any uncontrolled life", saying the draft law is "playing on the formal appearance of legality".

BELARUS: Detained, fined for sharing faith on streets

On 2 June, a judge fined Vladimir Burshtyn – who is in his 70s – over a month's average pension for an outdoor meeting in Drogichin with fellow Baptists to share their faith. He intends to appeal against the fine, imposed in a court hearing fellow-Baptists were denied access to. Police held him overnight before the hearing, and Head of the local Ideology Department Svetlana Shchur insisted to Forum 18 that any event must have state permission. Elsewhere, for the first time since 1990 a Catholic Corpus Christi procession did not stop at Minsk's Red Church, which the regime closed in September 2022.

BELARUS: Seven fined for talking about Easter in street

Seven Protestants were fined about 2 months' average wages each for talking to others on a Minsk street about Easter. Police arrested and handcuffed the seven, took them to a police station, and held them for about eight hours. No official would explain why they did this. Similarly, regime officials refuse to explain why they denied the Catholic Red Church parish – forcibly closed by the regime in 2022 – permission to hold Easter mass in the church grounds. The regime also refuses to publish planned 2023 Religion Law changes.

BELARUS: Rent hikes, suspicious fire, enforced church closure, expulsion anniversary

The regime terminated unlimited, free of charge rental agreements with at least four Catholic churches still in state hands. It claimed that, in exchange for signing a new agreement to pay rent, the churches will eventually be allowed to resume using their historical buildings rent-free. "We were told that if we don't sign the new agreement, the church will be given to the museum .. while we'll be allowed to worship there only once a week," said a Catholic close to Corpus Christi Church in Nesvizh.

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, January 2023

Forum 18's freedom of religion and belief survey analysis of Belarus notes continuing violations of this freedom and of interlinked freedoms. These include a web of "legal" restrictions on which communities can meet, where, who they are led by, and what literature they may use. These restrictions make the exercise of freedom of religion and belief dependent on state permission. Violations have worsened since fraudulent presidential elections in August 2020, and the regime's support for Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

BELARUS: Greek Catholic website among religious works banned as "extremist"

A Greek Catholic website and a YouTube interview with a Catholic priest are the latest religious items banned by courts as "extremist" and added to the Information Ministry's "Republican List of Extremist Materials". Deputy Information Minister Igor Buzovsky, who is also Deputy Chair of the "Republican Expert Commission for the Evaluation of Symbols, Attributes, and Information Products for the presence (or absence) in them of signs of Extremism", defended such bans. "This is done exclusively on the basis of the law," he insisted.

BELARUS: Polish priest forced to leave after 25 years

After his last Mass in Grodno's Holy Redeemer Church on 27 December, Polish citizen Fr Jozef Geza left Belarus after 25 years' service. Religious affairs official Aleksandr Rumak rejected his bishop’s request to extend the permission which foreign citizens need to conduct religious work. Rumak "won't comment" on his decision, his colleague Andrei Aryayev said. Last July, Rumak refused the latest request for permission for Fr Klemens Werth. A Russian citizen, he can therefore serve only in an administrative role in Vitebsk diocese.

BELARUS: Mass banned at Minsk's iconic Red Church

Visiting the closed Catholic Church of Saints Simon and Helena (Red Church) in central Minsk on 12 October, the day the parish was ordered to remove its property, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, retired Archbishop of Minsk-Mogilev, "was crying from the hopelessness of the situation". The worship ban and enforced closure followed a "strange and ambiguous" early-morning fire on 26 September in a small annexe. "Despite the small area of damage, the entire church is sealed and not accessible to the public for holding services," parishioners complained.