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“Freedom of religion is seriously violated by the Belarusian regime”

A survey by Forum 18 shows that “violations of the human rights have increased since fraudulent presidential elections and the regime's support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine”.

FUENTES Forum 18 News AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus MINSK 01 DE FEBRERO DE 2023 13:00 h
A church building in Minsk, Belarus. / Photo: [link]Osman Yunus Bekcan[/link], Unsplash CC0.

Norwegian human rights group Forum 18, recently launched a survey analysis on freedom of religion and belief in Belarus.



The survey denounces that “freedom of religion and belief, with its interlinked human rights, are seriously violated by the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko”.



Furthermore, “violations of the human rights have increased since fraudulent presidential elections  in August 2020, and the regime's support for Russia's renewed invasion of Ukraine in February 2022”.



 



Compulsory state registration



Due to the 2002 Religion Law, many groups face restrictions “on which communities can meet, where, who they are led by, and what literature they may use”, stresses the survey.



Under that law, a state registration is mandatory for all religious groups, that is why “the only communities which may freely exercise their freedom of religion are state-registered religious communities within state-approved places of worship or other venues”.



Places of worship also require advance state permission but officials often refuse it. “Protestant communities have generally found it impossible to get property redesignated to be used for worship in line with the law. Orthodox and Catholic communities are less affected”, explains Forum 18.



All this does not apply to communities with fewer than 20 members, but those must not publicise their existence.



Moreover, religious meetings in private homes must not be “either regular or large scale”, and using a private home as the legal address of a church is illegal.



However, Forum 18 warns that even if a community is registered, that does not ensure an end to official harassment.



 



Ongoing surveillance and censorship



The survey also points out that KGB secret police usually monitors “active members of a wide range of religious communities and initiatives”, along with Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs officials who often visit religious leaders too.



In addition to this, “each of the country's six regions and the city administration of the capital Minsk employ about 20 more officials in local Ideology Departments whose mandate includes controlling religion”.



Any religious book, publication or object must pass the censorship of the Plenipotentiary, and only registered religious organisations can establish companies to produce, sell and distribute religious literature.



“Formal state censorship runs in parallel with the threat of banning texts or websites as allegedly extremist”, which will be published in the Republican List of Extremist Materials .



 



Repression for regime opponents



Since 2020, many Belarussians has protested against Lukashenko's regime, despite the consequences that it might b ring.



The survey denounces that, amid that continuing crackdown on civil society, the government “is monitoring, threatening, targeting for prosecution, and punishing” religious leaders who “publicly oppose election fraud, regime violence or Belarus' role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine”.



Furthermore, it “has sought to ban prayers for political prisoners”, who have increased since August 2020 and “are frequently denied human rights such as freedom of religion”.



 



Control of foreigners



According to Forum 18, the freedom of religion of foreign citizens is “strictly controlled” by the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, which alone decides whether the religious work by a foreigner is "necessary".



Only religious communities that have state permission to exist can invite foreigners to work with them, but the Plenipotentiary can refuse permission without giving any reason.



Moreover, “legally-resident foreign citizens who are not religious workers are banned from any active participation – as against passive attendance – in religious communities”, underlines the survey.



You can read the full survey here.


 

 


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