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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

BELARUS: "To put the church in its place"

As more human rights defenders are jailed, others protesting against election falsification and regime violence are also targeted. The Belarusian Orthodox Church has fired many priests including Archbishop Artemy of Grodno, who spoke of a "general purge" as "not all church figures support the existing regime". Among others targeted, Catholic priest Fr Vyacheslav Barok fled to Poland. A public prosecutor claimed it is illegal to give Fr Barok a copy of an official warning he was read. The regime tried to stop singing of the hymn Mighty God and organised instead a pro-regime "prayer day".

BELARUS: Political prisoners' freedom of religion or belief restricted

The regime's many political prisoners are frequently denied clergy visits and access to religious literature, against both Belarusian law and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules). Arrested in March, Olga Zolotar repeatedly requested a visit from a Catholic priest, but the Investigative Committee refused. Finally, in June officials allowed a visit by the Vatican nuncio. "The denial of access of priests to political prisoners who are religious, and the use of discriminatory and repressive measures against them are unacceptable .. and grossly violate one of the fundamental human rights," Christian Vision notes.

BELARUS: Bailiffs, police evict Church

Bailiffs accompanied by police used an angle grinder and a crowbar on 17 February to gain access to Minsk's New Life Pentecostal Church to evict it. Officials told the Church they were enforcing a 2009 court order. Aleksey Petrukovich, who signed the enforcement order, refused to explain why the eviction happened, and why force was used. "I am indignant. This is a hostile takeover of church property with the excuse of official papers," Sergiy Melyanets, a member of a different Church who witnessed the eviction, told Forum 18.

BELARUS: Regime allows Archbishop's Christmas return

On 24 December, the regime allowed Belarus' senior Catholic leader, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, to return to his own country after barring him for 16 weeks. He will lead Christmas Masses in Minsk. The return followed a plea from Pope Francis, delivered to Aleksandr Lukashenko by the former Nuncio on 17 December. Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei – who had been present at the meeting – spoke of "a range of negative elements" connected with the Archbishop.

BELARUS: Religious freedom survey, October 2020

Before the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Belarus on 2 November, Forum 18's freedom of religion and belief survey analysis notes continuing violations of this freedom and of interlinked freedoms. These have worsened amid widespread continuing protests against falsified results of the August 2020 presidential election, and against the regime's other serious violations of the human rights of the people it rules.

BELARUS: Another Catholic priest banned from serving

Belarus' senior state religious affairs official gave the Catholic bishop of Vitebsk one day's notice that he was annulling permission for Polish priest Jerzy Wilk to serve in his parish, giving no reason. Fr Wilk has served in Belarus since 2003. The State Border Committee told Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz he was denied re-entry because his Belarusian passport was invalid. The Interior Ministry then said it was checking if he gained citizenship lawfully.

BELARUS: Catholic Church "cannot exist without its leader"

Border guards denied Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of Belarus' Catholic Church, re-entry to his own country on 31 August. President Aleksandr Lukashenko says he is on the shared Belarus/Russia entry ban list. No officials explained to Archbishop Kondrusiewicz – a Belarusian citizen – why he is barred. "The right of a citizen to enter the Republic of Belarus cannot be restricted," says the Law on Exit and Entry for Belarusian Citizens.

BELARUS: "Why should we pay the state .. to pray in our own church?"

Minsk's historical Catholic Red Church parish faces large financial demands from the state for building work it did not agree to and which it cannot afford. It is unclear why this parish is facing these demands, as no other religious community has faced them. City officials refused to explain to Forum 18 the large sums demanded. Catholics in Mogilev, Grodno and Bobruisk have failed to regain ownership of historical churches they use.

BELARUS: Makhalichev "basically free, but still not out of danger"

Vitebsk's Investigation Prison freed Russian Jehovah's Witness Nikolai Makhalichev on 7 April after Belarus' General Prosecutor's Office rejected Russia's extradition request. Russia wishes to punish him for exercising freedom of religion or belief there. Enira Bronitskaya of Human Constanta warns that Makhalichev is "not out of danger". If Belarus rejects his application for refugee status, he could be deported, either back to Russia or to a third country.

BELARUS: Jehovah's Witness fights extradition to Russia

Nikolai Makhalichev, a 35-year-old Russian Jehovah's Witness, is in Investigation Prison in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk as Belarus considers whether to accede to Russia's request for his extradition. Russia is investigating him on two criminal charges carrying up to ten and eight years' imprisonment to punish him for exercising freedom of religion or belief. Jehovah's Witness activity is legal in Belarus.

BELARUS: New possible fines for unapproved worship

On 18 July, criminal punishments for unregistered religious activities, including worship meetings, ended, but were replaced by summary fines of up to five weeks' average wage. "Some church members will be scared and stop coming to worship services or, God forbid, the authorities will impose a restraining order on the church's property," the leader of an unregistered Christian community commented.

BELARUS: "Unaffordable" police fees stop Greek Catholic pilgrimage

Under a Council of Ministers Decree, public events require fees to police, health workers and cleaners. The Interior Ministry later said fees would not apply to religious organisations' events at designated venues, such as churches and cemeteries. However, Greek Catholic leaders cancelled what would have been their 25th annual pilgrimage from Vitebsk to Polotsk in mid-July because of "unaffordable" police fees.