Protestants Face Brunt of Autocracy in Belarus
Special Report by ICC
12/7/2012 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)
Protestant Christians in the former Soviet nation of Belarus have faced persecution in various forms since President Alexander Lukashenko heightened restrictions following a wave of revolutions that swept across Central Asia about a decade ago. The latest example of persecution can be seen in a growing government pressure on Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church to vacate their property. The church had been ordered to hand over its building to officials on Dec. 5, but a court called off the eviction at the last minute, Norway-based Forum 18 News Service reported.
However, the court's order has no bearing on the fact that the church's land and building still belong to the authorities, New Life's administrator Vitaly Antonchikov was quoted as saying. The church has been using a renovated cow barn that authorities have refused to legalize for over a decade.
Whatever little the court offered, such rulings are an exception, not a norm, as the nation's judiciary is allegedly not independent. New Life is not the only church facing such pressure.
While the constitution provides for religious freedom and legal equality to all citizens, the government under President Lukashenko uses draconian regulation to target Protestant groups, who account for merely 2 percent of the nation's 10 million people.
The government seeks to control all religious denominations, but generally spares the Belarusian Orthodox Church under Moscow Patriarchate - which accounts for roughly 82 percent of the population - and the Roman Catholics, who are about 12 percent of the population.
Lukashenko, who calls himself an "Orthodox atheist" and believes in post-Soviet left-wing conservatism, is a typical authoritarian leader in the Central Asian region, where religious freedom - especially of groups that have any connections with believers in the United States - is seen as a threat to the regimes' hold on power.
"Christians across Central Asia have suffered intense investigations, fines, raids and beatings," says Corey Bailey, International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for Asia. "Often, on the surface the government will say they are in support of religious freedom, however their actions portray something different entirely," she adds. "Making permits and appropriate zonings difficult to acquire is one way that they attempt to disband churches and other religious groups."
The Lukashenko administration became more hostile to the New Life Church in particular, and Protestant groups in general, after the church held a hunger strike in 2006 with support of many other churches, calling for an amendment to the excessively restrictive religion law of 2002, which provides for registration of all religious groups and leaves enough room for authorities to deny registration to any group.
The 2002 religion law was introduced amid a wave of revolutions across Central Asia that overthrew some autocratic regimes, such as in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The law was part of an overall tightening of restrictions on people's civil rights in Belarus lest a revolt overthrew the government in that nation as well.
Lately, Lukashenko renewed restrictions after popular protests over his victory through an allegedly fraudulent election took place in Minsk in December 2010. Lukashenko, who has been president since 1994, is there to stay at least until the next presidential election in 2015, and most likely even beyond. However, prayers of Christians from around the world will help believers in Belarus to endure and overcome continued persecution.
For interviews, contact Corey Bailey, Regional Manager for Central Asia: RM-Asia@persecution.org
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