By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
MINSK, BELARUS (Worthy News)– Belarus continues to keep its religious communities confined within an invisible ghetto of regulations, according to Forum 18.
Central to its government's ghetto of regs is the 2002 Religion Law, arguably the most repressive law of its kind in Europe today; its restrictions includes the compulsory state registration of all religious communities and geographical limits on where their religious activity may take place.
Further, Belarus closely monitors all foreign citizens who conduct religious activities. According to a 1999 law, aliens may only operate within houses of worship belonging to, or continually rented by the religious organization that invited them: the org must be a state-registered religious association consisting of 10 or more communities of which one must have functioned in Belarus for 20 years. The transfer of a foreign worker from one religious org to another, even between parishes of the same denomination to conduct a single worship service, requires written permission from the state official of religious affairs.
Under Article 25 of the Religion Law, religious activity can only occur "unobstructed" in state-approved houses of worship, although the state itself often obstructs the acquisition of these houses by religious communities currently in political disfavor.
For any religious community in Belarus, state restrictions begin from the moment it forms. Under Article 14 of the Religion Law, all religious organizations must be registered with the state. However, Article 14 is silent on orgs with fewer than 20 members, the minimum membership required for registration. This creates a "Catch-22" for any new religious org since it cannot publicize itself before it has 20 members, but must do so in order to attract the necessary membership for registration. Fledgling communities that meet in private homes can't hold services on a regular basis, or with a large congregation.
Although state registration is compulsory, the Religion Law makes no provision for those who don't register; as of early 2010, only 3,210 local communities had state registration.
Unregistered religious activity is treated as an administrative offense under Article 9.9, Part 1of the Administrative Code: "creation or leadership of a religious organization without state registration or activity by a religious organization not in accordance with its registered statute."
As for religious property, some communities have found it impossible to get their properties re-designated in order to be legally be used for worship; if a building is not a state designated house of worship, permission becomes necessary for any religious activity.
All public exercises of religion, or belief must have state permission, but for religious communities in political disfavor, state regulations make that permission practically impossible. Religious organizations found in violation of Belorussian law must correct the violation within six months, or risk being shut down under Article 37.
Failure to follow any and all of the above restrictions can result in fine and/or imprisonment. In violation of both Belarus and international law, prisoners of conscience for their faith have been denied pastoral visits, communal worship and religious literature during lengthy detentions.