By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
MINSK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) — Sergey Shavtsov, a lawyer and prominent human rights activist, was arrested, tried and sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment in Belarus for organizing an "illegal religious activity," a UK-based religious rights group said Monday, March 27.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said Shavtsov was detained Friday March 24, by state security forces after claiming to be the main organizer of an inter-denominational conference featuring an American humanitarian aid worker.
Sergey Shavtsov, who is married with two children, represents most of the Protestant church unions in Belarus. He authored the 2002 'White Book' which documented violations of international law on religious freedom in Belarus, CSW.
He was the latest among hundreds of other activists, who have been detained in recent days during protests against the disputed election that extended the rule of Belarus' hard-line President Alexander Lukashenko.
DELEGATES LOCKED UP
"Reports from Belarus state that three policemen and one KGB agent entered the conference building on the final day of the conference and locked all the delegates inside for one hour," CSW said.
They then arrested two pastors whom they believed were the conference organizers while the remaining delegates were released after their personal details had been recorded, the group added.
"The pastors were interrogated at the police station, but were released when Shavtsov claimed sole responsibility for the conference. According to the same reports, he was almost immediately taken from the police station to the administrative court, where he was given a 20-minute summary trial and sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment."
Belarusian church representatives have expressed concern that Shavtsov and the remainder of the delegates may be liable to further prosecution. "They report that Shavtsov could be sentenced to up to two years' imprisonment, and each delegate up to six months' imprisonment," said CSW which has close contacts with reportedly persecuted Christians.
Sergey Shavtsov is believed to be the second person in Belarus to be convicted under recent legislation which severely restricts the scale of permitted religious events. The first was Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of the Minsk-based Christ's Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, who was sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment for conducting religious worship in his home on March 3.
"We are extremely concerned for Sergey and his family. It is a tragic irony that Sergey has been convicted under the very same legislation which he has been attempting to bring to the attention of the international community for many years," said CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
"…We are worried these arrests signal renewed hostility on the part of the government towards religious believers," Thomas added. Observers have said there is concern within the government of Belarus over growing evangelical movements outside the mainstream Orthodox Church, which has close ties with the Lukashenko government, as this may undermine its power base.
The government has denied wrongdoing. Lukashenko also made clear he would not allow similar revolutions as those in other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia where presidents were toppled by crowds demanding democratic change. The United States and the European Union have threatened with sanctions against Belarus unless all opposition supporters are released. Russia has not joined the criticism, saying it recognized the outcome of March 19 presidential election. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from Belarus).
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