Friday, July 25, 2008

Life is Hard for Belarus Christians

A Belarusian Christian was fined the equivalent of nine months minimum wage salary for attempting to organise an informal Bible study and discussion group, a human rights group reported on July 25.

On June 9 2008, the Grodno Regional Court declared Valentin Borovik guilty of violating Article 14 of the Belarusian Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion (LFCR) and Article 9.9 of the Administrative Violations Code and fined him 315,000 roubles (approximately £75, $150, €95).

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “This case exemplifies the difficulties faced by Christians in Belarus. Mr Borovik wanted nothing more than to meet together with fellow believers to study and discuss his faith, a right that most of us in Western Europe take for granted. It is a travesty that these types of violations are still taking place in Europe.

“The Belarusian government must be pushed to respect its own laws and international commitments and to allow Belarusians to meet together and practise their faith freely.”

Source: Religious Intelligence News

Meanwhile, prayers continue for Zmitser Dashkevich, a 26 year-old Christian who was arrested and imprisoned for campaigning for unity within Belarus and for the teaching Christianity. He is part of the ‘Young Front’ organisation, a youth reform movement that is seeking to defend human rights and freedom of religion in Belarus.

Zmitser has been activist since 2001, taking part in social and educational programs and promoting the development of the civil society. In 2005, he was appointed co-leader of the Young Front organisation and was the recipient of a human rights award in 2006.

He was arrested on 15 September 2006, accused of ‘organising or participating in an activity of an unregistered non-governmental organisation’ under article 193, Part one of the Criminal code. This amendment was made in December 2005 as part of a crackdown on civil liberties activists. The amendment gives the government power to impose penalties on organisations that speak against it's repressive policies.

Zmitser’s parents were not allowed to visit him in prison and they did not see him until his court hearing over six weeks later. He is their only child.

He was sent to prison for eighteen months on 1 November 2006 where he celebrated his 26th birthday. Amnesty international considers Zmitser a prisoner of conscience. A prisoner of conscience is someone incarcerated, either in prison or under house arrest, simply for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.

Zmitser appealed against his sentence, but on 15 December 2006 this appeal was rejected my Minsk City Court and the original sentence of eighteen months was upheld.

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