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Belarus changes the law to further stifle churches

Amendments to the law on the activities of religious organisations make it difficult to plant new churches and many could be forced to close.

AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus MINSK 10 DE ENERO DE 2024 13:19 h
Minsk, Belarus. / Photo: [link] Egor Kunovsky [/link], Unsplash CC0.

The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, recently signed a draft law with changes to the laws on the activities of religious organisations.

The document toughens the requirements for the creation of a national or local religious associations, and makes it easier for the authorities to close and even liquidate a religious community.

Activities that “contradict the main directions of domestic and foreign policy of Belarus or that are harmful to the health of Belarusians” could be a reason for a liquidation.


Re-registration before 2025

According to the draft law, religious organisations must be re-registered within a year after the law comes into force. That re-registration will begin in the summer of 2024, and must be completed by the beginning of January 2025.

In order to be fully registered as a national religious association, it must include at least 15 religious communities from Minsk and all regions, and at least one of them must have existed for over 30 years.

Furthermore, “the head or founder of a religious organisation, national or local, cannot be a person from the list of extremists and terrorists”, states the draft law.


Social but not political activities

In agreement with local executive committees, religious organisations will be able to create “orphanages, as well as facilities to provide social services to the elderly, people with disabilities and people dependent on psychoactive substances”. However, engaging in political activities, participating in the activities of political parties and supporting them, is banned for them.

No political symbols are allowed to be used by religious groups. The draftr law also says that activities “directed against the sovereignty of Belarus, the constitutional system and civil harmony”, or those “that discredit Belarus, promote war, hostility, extremism, and humiliation of national honor and dignity” are also prohibited.

Sunday school programs should not contain “propaganda of war, hostility and extremism” or go against “the ideology of traditional values generally recognized in the Belarusian state”, the text says.


International concern

Evangelical churches in Belarus have suffered under the heavy controls and threats of the national and local authorities in the last years. Pastors and other believers have been brought to the courts for supporting peaceful protests against the government.

Churches such as New Life in Minsk have been harrassed and shut down after its members expressed criticism of President Lukashensko's policies and the lack of freedoms in the country.

“The decline in freedom of religion or belief in Belarus is a matter of grave concern”, stressed American researcher, Dylan Schexneydre, who published a report on the situation of religious freedom in Belarus in 2023. “Lukashenko's government continues to harshly repress civil society and increase efforts to regulate religious life”.

On 14 December 2023, the European Parliament adopted a resolution by 489 votes in favour, 7 against with 42 abstentions, calling on the Lukashenko regime to “release opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich along with all of Belarus‘ nearly 1,500 political prisoners”, some of them faith leaders.


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