BELARUS: "Just silence" reply to UN deadline
Belarus has not met a 12 November deadline, set by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, to report its correction of a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In a decision with implications for many religious communities, Belarus was found to have violated two Hare Krishna devotees' religious freedom rights by refusing to register a nationwide Hare Krishna association. Without registration the association's activity is illegal under Belarus's harsh religion law. One of the devotees, Sergei Malakhovsky, told Forum 18 News Service that the only reply the state had given them was "just silence. They were supposed to respond and publish what they had done within 90 days, but that period is over." The devotees have formally asked the Belarusian Supreme Court to review earlier court decisions violating their ICCPR-guaranteed religious freedom. The head of the UN Human Rights Committee's petitions department told Forum 18 that Belarus "will reply – they have said that they will – but they didn't give a specific date." Aleksandr Kalinov of the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs told Forum 18 that his body was "examining the issues."
Asked about Belarus' response to the UN Human Rights Committee's resolution on 3 November, Aleksandr Kalinov of the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs told Forum 18 that his body was currently "examining the issues" connected with it.
In a decision with clear implications for other religious communities, the UN Human Rights Committee found that Belarus had violated the religious freedom guarantees of Article 18 of the ICCPR. Its 23 August resolution (Communication 1207/2003) came in response to a formal complaint by two Hare Krishna devotees, Sergei Malakhovsky and Aleksandr Pikul, and stated that the pair's rights had been violated by Belarus' refusal to register their republic-wide Hare Krishna association. The UN Human Rights Committee examines alleged violations of the ICCPR, which entered force for Belarus in 1976.
Starting from the 23 August date of the resolution and thus expiring on 12 November, the UN Human Rights Committee also specified a ninety-day period for the Belarusian state to confirm that it had taken measures to correct the violation. (For full details of the Hare Krishna devotees' original complaint and the UN Human Rights Committee's decision, see F18News 4 November 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=682).
Speaking to Forum 18 from Minsk on 22 November, Sergei Malakhovsky said that he has still not received any form of response to the UN resolution from state representatives. "Just silence," he remarked. "They were supposed to respond and publish what they had done within 90 days, but that period is over." On 18 November Hare Krishna devotees submitted a formal request to the Supreme Court to review earlier court decisions violating their religious freedom as guaranteed by the ICCPR (see F18News 27 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=500).
Malakovsky also reported that, while previously assured by officials at Minsk City Executive Committee that the local [not republic-wide] Hare Krishna community could be re-registered as soon as it found a suitable legal address, the city authorities referred its re-registration application back to district level when the community recently managed to find such an address after a year's difficult search. "They were clearly surprised that we had found somewhere," he told Forum 18, "but it is with a private landlord not so dependent upon the state." On 16 November, according to Malakhovsky, officials representing the Soviet District of Minsk – where the address is located – began to make new demands regarding the content of the community's re-registration application.
The UN Human Rights Committee's decision has implications for cases such as the charismatic New Life Church in Minsk (see most recently F18News 25 October 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=676). The acquisition of a state-approved legal address – a requirement for the compulsory registration of religious communities under the harsh 2002 Religion Law – is notoriously difficult in the Belarusian capital (see F18News 12 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=560 and 28 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=619).
While four Hare Krishna communities have successfully re-registered under the 2002 law, the Belarusian state has made no secret of its hostility towards the group. In October 1997 an expert council attached to the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs concluded that the Minsk Hare Krishna community was a "destructive totalitarian sect infringing personality, health, citizens' rights and the national security of the Republic of Belarus." A state schoolbook also maintains that for Hare Krishna devotees "psychiatric help is certainly required" (see F18News 24 June 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=90). Some in Belarus have told Forum 18 that the state's hostility to many religious confessions is closely connected to Soviet-style militant atheism, which is still propagated by the state and exerts a strong influence on officials (see F18News 18 November 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=186). (END)
For more background information see Forum 18's Belarus religious freedom survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=478
A printer-friendly map of Belarus is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=belaru
18 November 2005
A state report seen by Forum 18 News Service gives a rare insight into state attempts to contain religious activity, and official gloom at the state's failure. Vasili Marchenko, top religious affairs official in Brest region, is very upset that officials are not active enough in breaking up worship services and harassing, fining and controlling religious activity, writing of "an even more depressing situation." The report aims at "repairing defects" in controlling religious activity by 1 December 2005. Marchenko gloomily writes of the state's failure to return an alternative Orthodox community to the Moscow Patriarchate, failure to stop Baptists conducting two or three services a week, "freely and systematically distributing .. religious literature," and conducting "an illegal water baptism" lasting over four hours with over 300 participants. Local authorities are also castigated by Marchenko for failing to stop Eastern-rite Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Adventist and Pentecostal activity. Forum 18 has found an apparent link between Marchenko's report and subsequent increased action against religious communities.
15 November 2005
State authorities have insisted to Forum 18 News Service that religious literature was lawfully confiscated from a street library in eastern Belarus. Bobruisk City Executive Committee vice-chairman Mikhail Kovalevich told Forum 18 that the Baptists had both "ignored" and "violated" the legal procedure for holding religious events by acting without state approval. "Religious events should be in a house of worship, not on the street," he stated about the street evangelism. The Baptists have been told by the head of the local state Ideology Department that the confiscated literature - including copies of the New Testament - would be sent for expert analysis and might not be returned at all, and that a court will soon resolve the issue. In another recent case, a Baptist in Brest has been fined for leading an unregistered religious organisation. Local Baptists have protested against this, pointing out that, under Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religionâ¦ everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association."
9 November 2005
In what its priest, Fr Ioann Grudnitsky, has described to Forum 18 News Service as "the crudest violation of religious freedom," state officials in Belarus are refusing to register a Russian Orthodox Church Abroad village parish that has come into conflict with the local Moscow Patriarchate diocese. Activities of the parish are – against international human rights standards – illegal under Belarusian law. Non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Christian communities can only gain state registration with the approval of a local Moscow Patriarchate bishop, and state officials have told Fr Ioann's parishioners to attend the local Moscow Patriarchate Church instead. Belarusian authorities have imposed large fines for worship in private homes on four occasions this year, "but we will carry on praying no matter what the state does," Fr Ioann told Forum 18. In a telegram to both Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and Patriarch of Moscow Aleksi II, Fr Ioann's parishioners have complained about state restrictions on their holding of "religious events," demanding to know "where is there a law banning us from praying?"