Republic of Belarus (info and map)
For Immediate Release
June 15, 2010
Belarus religious minorities in dire straits
KRICHEV, Belarus—On a Saturday afternoon in the Mogilev district, six Jehovah’s Witnesses were at the home of a 75-year-old friend and fellow believer. They had gathered there to visit and to discuss thoughts from the Bible. But they didn’t know that on this day they had already been targeted for a search and seizure.
Authorities, including representatives of the District Executive Committee and the local police inspector, came to the apartment that Saturday, February 13, 2010, at approximately 4 p.m., claiming that earlier a crime had been committed in that part of the building and they were seeking information about the circumstances. But after they were inside, the officers read the order about the search of the premises approved by the local prosecutor. They confiscated Bible literature, videoed the apartment, and made each of the six Witnesses write a statement.
During their detention the six Witnesses were not mistreated. However, when one of the women detainees who is a diabetic became ill and needed her regular shot of insulin, she was not allowed to return home. After she fainted, she was finally taken to her home.
G.A. Kirpicheva, the head of the Department on Ideological Activity of the Krichev Executive Committee, compiled a protocol accusing Maksim Pyrochkin, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who was present at the apartment, of “forming and leading a religious organization without state registration.” The Belarus law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations obligates religious groups to officially register their organizations once they have a minimum of 20 members. Although this same law is silent with regard to citizen groups that have fewer than 20 members, the Constitution of Belarus expressly guarantees the individual right of all people to freely profess their religion—regardless of membership or registration. Whether or not the Belarus authorities will guarantee what is established by the Constitution for all their citizens, time will tell.
On February 23, 2010, the law in Belarus was changed so that it no longer makes a provision for bringing an administrative violation against an individual on the basis of forming and leading a religious organization that is unregistered with the state. Relying on this new law, a court in the Krichev region, on March 11, 2010, dismissed the case against Maksim Pyrochkin.
The authorities seem to be taking specific steps with regard to the religious freedom that is enshrined in the Belarus Constitution. Small groups of believers hope to be able to gather together and discuss Bible topics without fearing harassment from the authorities.