Belarus: Religious Repression; Presidential Election March 19

Thursday, March 16, 2006

By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Belarus is ruled by Soviet-style totalitarian dictator, Aleksandr Lukashenko. Popularly elected in 1994, he has since then maintained his grip on power through propaganda, repression, fraud and violence. In late 2002 Belarus adopted the most repressive Religion Law in all Europe. Unregistered religious groups are illegal, and registration is severely restrictive. In 2003 Lukashenko decreed that his Soviet-style official Belarusian ideology must be taught across the nation to give Belarus 'immunity' from 'infection'. In October 2004, Lukashenko won a rigged referendum that purportedly gave him both a mandate and the right to amend the constitution and run for re-election in 2006. In December 2005 the government passed an 'urgent' amendment to the Criminal Code, making it illegal to 'discredit the Republic of Belarus'. It has been at great risk that reports of systematic KGB-orchestrated religious persecution have continued to leak out of Belarus.

On 3 March Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of Minsk was sentenced to ten days' imprisonment for conducting worship in his home. He is pastor of Christ's Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, one of two Reformed Baptist churches refused registration. Pastor Vyazovsky is believed to be the first pastor in Belarus to be imprisoned for religious activity since the Soviets released religious prisoners under glasnost (openness) in the mid-1980s. Vladimir Bukanov, a fellow Reformed Baptist pastor who attended the trial told religious liberty monitors Forum 18 , 'The accusations against him were that people were reading the Bible, praying and singing hymns in his house.'

Pastor Vyazovsky was released on 13 March, but Forum 18 reports that the Pentecostal Minsk regional bishop, Sergei Tsvor, who is also first vice-chairman of the Pentecostal Union and pastor of the Minsk-based Good News Church, is facing the same charges. The Good News Church is registered, but the authorities are persecuting the 100-strong fellowship with a 2003 law which bans public demonstrations. In analysing the situation, Forum 18 wonders if the right to hold worship services is being interpreted as separate from the right to exist. Pastor Tsvor is awaiting a summons to appear in court.

The Belarus presidential election will be held on Sunday 19 March. Most of the Belarus opposition parties have united in a coalition, the Congress of Democratic Forces of Belarus, behind Alexander Milinkevich. The other opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, was recently beaten up by KGB ovirtually no access to the media and their supporters are intimidated, beaten, imprisoned, and 'disappeared'. The KGB alleges they have uncovered a coup plot, whereby the opposition, upon losing the vote, will cry foul, cite fraudulent exit polls, and provoke an uprising. Lukashenko's response to this is: 'If there are provocations, we'll give them such a going-over they won't know what's hit them.' China and Iran have voiced support for Lukashenko. Analysts expect the polls to be rigged, Lukashenka will win, and those with enough raw courage to take to the streets to 'defend their choice' will be met with crushing, deadly violence.


* God to give heavenly wisdom and direction to Belarus' pastors and Christian leaders, so they may lead his flock according to his will through the difficult days ahead.

* God to protect the churches, draw them into prayer, increase their faith, and secure justice for Pastor Sergei Tsvor.

* God to breathe a thirst-like longing for openness, justice and liberty into the hearts of Belarus's voters, along with the courage to vote for it and demand it.

* for revival and reformation to come to Belarus's large, influential Orthodox and Catholic churches; may all who profess Christ's name stand united in brotherly love and righteousness, for justice, liberty and the Church in Belarus.

* the Lord to intervene and restore openness, justice and liberty to Belarus.

The Lord's promise: '...and my arm will bring justice to the nations.' Isaiah 51:5