Baptists fined in Belarus for illegal worship

The U.S. government monitors religious freedom in Belarus but does not list the former Soviet state as a country of “particular concern.”

By Bob Allen

Four Baptists in Belarus paid fines after losing appeals for holding worship services without government permission.

Forum 18, an international news service that specializes in religious-freedom issues, reported that Pastor Aleksandr Zolotarev, arrested in a Dec. 22 raid while meeting in a private home in the southeastern town of Gomel, was found guilty in Jan. 28 of violating procedures for “organizing mass events.”

belarusChurch members Oleg Danilevsky and Dmitry Sidorenko were found guilty of participation in unauthorized worship the same day.

In a separate hearing Jan. 30, a judge convicted the owner of the house, church deacon Andrei Tupalsky, of improper use of residential property.

Belarus bans religious activity by unregistered groups. The Council of Churches Baptist, to which the Gomel Baptists belong, reject state registration on principle.

In his appeal Tupalsky reportedly argued that “according to the Constitution I have the right to profess my religion, which is vital both for me and my follow believers.” He also said the law cannot restrict his right “to place as many benches and clothes hangers for my fellow believers as I want.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom includes Belarus on a “watch list” for monitoring, but said in its 2013 report the nation does not yet meet the standard for designation as a country of “particular concern” used to describe the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.

Orthodox Christianity is the principal religion in Belarus, but the country also recognizes Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims.