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The right to change one’s belief or religion
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BELARUS: Repressive new Religion Law imposes compulsory re-registration

Belarus' repressive new Religion Law – now signed and which comes into force on 5 July 2024 - continues to require all religious communities to gain state registration before they are allowed to exist and continues to ban the activity of unregistered religious organisations. "There's nothing new under the sun," one Baptist commented. All registered religious communities are required to seek re-registration between 5 July 2024 and 5 July 2025. Officials refused to put Forum 18 through to senior regime religious affairs official Aleksandr Rumak, whose office drafted the new Law.

BELARUS: Officials warn clergy not to violate strict state restrictions

Olga Chemodanova, Head of Minsk City Executive Committee's Ideology Department, warned a Minsk Orthodox Diocese clergy meeting not to violate the state's strict restrictions. "Her address contained open threats towards priests who are ideologically alien," Christian Vision noted. "Chemodanova gave them to understand that they should expect prison." Religious affairs official Aleksandr Rumak warned that there should be no politics in church and no "non-religious symbols". The warnings echo provisions of the now-adopted new Religion Law. The Supreme Court upheld the liquidation of Minsk's New Life Church.

BELARUS: New Life Church appeals against liquidation

On 17 October, Minsk City Court ordered the liquidation of New Life Full Gospel Church, Yekaterina Kaverina of Minsk City Executive Committee stating that some of the Church's online materials are "extremist". Kaverina refused to explain why she had sought the Church's liquidation after 31 years. The Church has appealed to the Supreme Court against the liquidation decision, which does not go into force until the appeal is heard. No date has yet been set for the hearing. "We are waiting," a church member told Forum 18.

BELARUS: Repressive draft Religion Law awaits second reading

Belarus' repressive new Religion Law awaits its second reading in the regime's non-freely elected parliament after passing its first reading on 11 October. No date has been set. The text of the draft Law as presented to parliament was made public only on about 10 October. Local human rights defenders and religious communities have criticised the Law, and three UN Special Rapporteurs have written to the regime expressing concerns that the proposed new Law "would fail to meet Belarus' obligations under international human rights law".

BELARUS: After church bulldozed, New Life Church faces liquidation

A Minsk court will decide in a case due to begin on 6 October whether the 31-year-old New Life Full Gospel Church will be stripped of its legal status and become illegal. If so, any activity it undertakes could risk up to a two-year jail term. The hearing comes 15 weeks after the regime bulldozed its place of worship. The Minsk city official who prepared the liquidation suit refused to comment. One year on from a suspicious minor fire, Saints Simon and Helena Catholic Church (Red Church) in central Minsk remains closed. The draft new Religion Law reached parliament on 29 September.

BELARUS: Is regime planning to liquidate New Life Church?

The regime seized and demolished the place of worship of Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church, banned it from meeting outdoors in its car park, jailed its Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko for 10 days and banned its website for six months. On 23 August, a closed court hearing declared two of its internet postings from 2020 "extremist". Asked if the regime is planning to strip the Church of its legal status, Deputy Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs Sergei Gerasimenya refused to say.

BELARUS: Threatened with criminal prosecution for sharing faith in public

Prosecutor Fyodor Mikhovich refused to explain why he threatened Baptist Vladimir Burshtyn with criminal prosecution if he continues to share his faith in public. "I do not know who you are," he told Forum 18. The threat came after a court fined Burshtyn a month's average pension for sharing his faith. Border guards detained Greek Catholic Boris Khamaida as he travelled to a pilgrimage. A jail term prevented him from attending. A draft new Religion Law is set to reach Parliament in September.

BELARUS: Pastor jailed – to stop him attending "extremist materials" hearing?

Since 11 July, Minsk's New Life Church faces multiple new regime investigations into a summer camp accident, a renewed massive tax demand it strongly disputes, a website ban, and a court case for publishing allegedly "extremist materials" protesting at election fraud and regime illegality among other things. The regime bulldozed its church building on 20 June. Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko has been jailed until 24 August, possibly to stop him participating in a 23 August "extremist materials" hearing that may be a prelude to the Church being forcibly closed.

BELARUS: Bulldozers destroy Minsk church

Evicted from its church building in February 2021, banned from meeting for worship in the church car park, Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church has now seen its church bulldozed. The bulldozing – ordered by Capital Construction Management Company, owned by Minsk City Executive Committee – began on 20 June, within a day reducing much of the building to rubble. The Company, the Office of the Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, and Minsk City Executive Committee would not explain why New Life's church building – which it bought in 2002 – was destroyed.

BELARUS: Draft Religion Law "playing on formal appearance of legality"

The regime has published the text of a restrictive draft new Religion Law, due to be discussed by the non-freely elected Parliament in September, which it falsely claims "does not affect" international human rights obligations. Exiled human rights defender and Orthodox priest Fr Aleksandr Shramko described the aim as "to somehow extinguish any pockets of not only possible resistance, but also any uncontrolled life", saying the draft law is "playing on the formal appearance of legality".

BELARUS: Detained, fined for sharing faith on streets

On 2 June, a judge fined Vladimir Burshtyn – who is in his 70s – over a month's average pension for an outdoor meeting in Drogichin with fellow Baptists to share their faith. He intends to appeal against the fine, imposed in a court hearing fellow-Baptists were denied access to. Police held him overnight before the hearing, and Head of the local Ideology Department Svetlana Shchur insisted to Forum 18 that any event must have state permission. Elsewhere, for the first time since 1990 a Catholic Corpus Christi procession did not stop at Minsk's Red Church, which the regime closed in September 2022.

BELARUS: Seven fined for talking about Easter in street

Seven Protestants were fined about 2 months' average wages each for talking to others on a Minsk street about Easter. Police arrested and handcuffed the seven, took them to a police station, and held them for about eight hours. No official would explain why they did this. Similarly, regime officials refuse to explain why they denied the Catholic Red Church parish – forcibly closed by the regime in 2022 – permission to hold Easter mass in the church grounds. The regime also refuses to publish planned 2023 Religion Law changes.