By Worthy News Europe Bureau in Budapest
MINSK/BUDAPEST (Worthy News) — Some 50 Protestant pastors, many of whom were punished for religious activities, have written to President Aleksandr Lukashenko complaining of long-standing restrictions, an advocacy group said Tuesday, August 25.
Forum 18 said the letter came as officials defended fining Baptist Christians in the Western town of Baranovichi about one month's average wages for for using their home for religious worship.
"They violated the Religion Law," ideology official Sergei Puzikov was quoted as saying. He denied the measure contradicted Belarus' Constitution, which apparently guarantees religious freedom. "In any country there is not only the Constitution, but individual laws."
Puzikov was reportedly also involved in a fine handed down to another Baranovichi church in July. Police in nearby Malorita tried to have Baptists punished for singing hymns on the street, but the judge threw out the case, said Forum 18, which has close contacts with the Christians.
Pressure also continues on one of the largest evangelical churches, the the New Life Full Gospel congregation in the capital Minsk, after they refused to accept official demands to give up their place of worship they bought back in 2002.
The church's church's lawyer, Sergei Lukanin, has said that Court executors delivered an order to vacate the building by August 20, but church members instead have held a series of prayer meetings on the site.
Religious officials have refused to comment.
European Union ambassadors in Minsk were due to hear the church leaders' concerns on Tuesday, August 25.
There has been growing pressure on Protestant churches and evangelical groups in several former Soviet Union republics.