The regime of Lukashenko, a key ally of Russia, continues to jail those who dared to demand freedom and more democracy in the 2020 protests.
Ever since Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, he has had an ally in the region: the non-democratic regime of Aleksander Lukashenko in Belarus.
After weeks of military exercises in the neighbouring country ahead of 24 February 2022, Russian troops launched their offensive towards Kyiv from Belarusian soil.
Belarus shares a 1,084-kilometre border with Ukraine. Minsk, however, has vehemently denied that its armed forces will set a foot on Ukrainian soil.
But Belarussians are “fearful” of their country being dragged in a full confrontation with Ukraine, says a young Christian leader who spoke to Evangelical Focus.
“I think our dictator doesn’t join Russia in the war because he doesn’t trust his army and population, who may mobilise against him. He [President Lukashenko] will wait and resist to join the war for as long as possible”.
In 2020, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets for weeks accusing Lukashenko of electoral fraud. Young and old demanded freedom and democracy. Among them, there were also Christians.
More than two years later, “we are very scared and in despair”, says this Belarusian Christian. “Many people were forced to leave Belarus, others were arrested”. The arrests continue still now, and “pictures posted online from a demonstration” or “comments on social media” are used as evidence to prosecute regular citizens.
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, says he knows several members of evangelical churches “who are in jail for participation in protests”. In response, “some churches help political prisoners and their families”. He also knows of Christian lawyers who support those under arrest. “But all initiatives are small and illegal”.
The respected religious freedom advocacy group Forum 18 (in Norway) said in its recent report on Belarus that “freedom of religion is seriously violated” under Lukashenko’s rule.
The source talking to Evangelical Focus agrees. “We have the illusion of religious freedom. Church members may come together and worship God until they first preach about political prisoners or the fraudulent elections. Our government considers it as trying to destabilise the situation in the country. One church in Minsk lost their building for their strong and honest position”.
This evangelical also looks at what churches could have done better. “Not a lot of churches were mature enough in the beginning of the protests [in 2020]”. Many Christian leaders “didn’t support our society and don’t do it now. It’s very sad, but many pastors have an indifferent attitude to this situation”.
This means, says this Christian, that a lot of Christian leaders “are no longer seen as moral authorities for our society because most of them weren’t on the side of our nation in the most difficult time of our modern history”.
Nevertheless, some “churches in Minsk and even some in the regions continue to pray for political prisoners and wait for changes from God”.
Do Belarussians have hope for a brighter future? “Many young people dream of leaving Belarus”, says the Christian leader, who is himself a millennial. “All young people understand that our country doesn’t have a happy future and that staying here is very dangerous”.
Those who like him supported the protests and oppose the regime do not see a change in the horizon and “fear every day being the next to be arrested”.
Asked about how Christians can pray for his country, he says: “Pray for an end to repression and political jailings. Pray for courage to be a strong Jesus witness for this country”. “And pray, please, for churches and church leaders”, he concludes.