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BELARUS: Fines, car park worship ban for New Life Church

On 25 September, police banned Minsk's New Life Church from meeting for Sunday worship in the car park of the building from which officials forcibly evicted it in February 2021. Police detained the Church's pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko and another pastor Antoni Bokun. A judge fined each two months' average wage for leading the 18 September service which police had observed. Minsk City Executive Committee refuses to return the seized church building or allow the Church to meet for worship in the car park.

BELARUS: Officials threaten to liquidate Minsk's New Life Church

Minsk City Administration and local police have warned New Life Pentecostal Church that meetings for worship in the church car park are illegal and threatened to liquidate the Church in court. Liquidation would make any exercise of freedom of religion or belief illegal and punishable with up to a two-year jail term. The Church meets each Sunday in the car park after officials evicted it in February 2021 from the church building it bought in 2002. Officials refuse to explain why the Church cannot use its building.

BELARUS: Closing "one of the last remaining opportunities to seek justice"

If Parliament approves a draft Law, individuals will be stripped of the possibility to complain to the UN Human Rights Committee about violations of their rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Nazaruk alleged "arbitrary expansion" of the Committee's powers. Human rights groups warn this "will close one of the last remaining opportunities to seek justice for human rights violations". In 2021, the Committee found the regime violated Valentin Borovik's rights when it fined him for leading an unregistered Pentecostal community.

BELARUS: Fined for river baptisms, fined for private garden baptisms

Without facilities at Gomel's Living Faith Church, Pastor Dmitry Podlobko held river baptisms in late 2021 without state permission. He was fined two days' average wage and his Church was warned. So he held baptisms in July 2022 in his garden. Police summoned him and a court fined him two weeks' average wage. Asked whether Podlobko would have been punished had he and his friends been swimming, Police Chief Vasili Kravtsov responded: "They weren't swimming in the pool. This was a religious ritual. They are completely different."

BELARUS: "A Christian cannot say that what's going on in Ukraine is good"

Police warned Orthodox priest Fr Andrei Nozdrin and his church transferred him to a remote parish after he publicly opposed Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus' role in this. He insisted that "a Christian cannot say that what's going on in Ukraine is good, and should understand that killing is a sin". He told Forum 18 that he will continue to teach these Christian principles. The regime has similarly targeted other Orthodox and Catholic priests.

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".