By Worthy News Staff in Budapest
MINSK/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) -- An evangelical church in the Belarus' capital Minsk faced uncertainty Thursday, July 16, as authorities threatened to close it because a foreign pastor preached at a worship service.
Pastor Boris Grisenko, a Ukrainian, was also fined fined 105,000 Belarusian Roubles ($37) after preaching at the New Testament Pentecostal Church, said religious rights group Forum 18.
Authorities defended the move, with the head of the city's Department of Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Alla Ryabitseva, reportedly saying: "I have been to the United States. Visitors to the country can't just go and speak at a religious service without permission."
Police declined to say how they found out about the worship service, but Christians have complained of alleged surveillance by the secret KGB service.
Foreigners engaged in religious activity have long been a target of state hostility, along with their Belarusian Christians and other groups, several rights groups and local Christians said.
In addition “Catholic priests and nuns have regularly been expelled” Forum 18 said. Authorities were to publish a Concordat, but it remained unknown whether the document would address violations of freedom of religion or belief.
In published remarks, Bishop Sergei Tsvor, deputy head of the Pentecostal Union to which the Minsk congregation belongs, condemned the authorities' reported crackdown."I don't need permission from the authorities to speak at a service or a conference in Russia, Ukraine, Poland or Germany - I've done so many times.”
He said Belarus has “a law that bans foreigners from such participation. I regret that the law exists - it is a violation of our rights."
The European Union has been pressuring Belarus to improve religious and political rights. The EU recently lifted sanctions on Belarus after the administration of autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko released some political prisoners and made other liberal reforms. Lukashenko has publicly sought investment from the EU. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos in Budapest).