ASTANA/MINSK/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)– Evangelical Christians in Belarus and Kazakhstan faced increased pressure Friday, October 21, to halt unauthorized worship services after pastors were fined and churches raided in the former Soviet republics.
In Belarus, Pastor Aleksei Abramovich was among those fined several weeks of average wages as is part of the Baptist Council of Churches which refuses “on principle to gain state registration,” said advocacy group Forum 18.
Yelena Goretskaya of the Ideology Department of Zhodino Executive Committee reportedlydefended a recent raid on Abramovich’s house church in Zhodino, near Belarus’ capital Minsk,saying believers “had broken the law” by not registering the church.
However in a published letter to President Alexander Lukashenko the pastor called the worship meetings “purely religious” adding that it’s “not a crime if believers worship” in his my house.
CHURCH OF GOD
The Church of God, an independent Protestant church in Zhodino, has given up trying to gain state registration for his newly built church as repeated attempts have failed, Forum 18 added in a statement.
“Elsewhere, eight Jehovah’s Witness congregations, as well as non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox congregations languish without state registration. This leaves them at risk of raids and punishment at any time,” Forum 18 said.
Ahead of the October 13 signing ceremony however, police and secret police agents reportedly raided a worship meeting of officially registered Protestant church New Life, saying that under the new Religion Law the congregation “cannot meet outside its legal address.”
During the raid, a 17-year old woman was hit by a policeman, leaving her unconscious, Forum 18 said. Her situation was not immediately clear Friday, October 21.
Local Christians claim no action seems to be being taken against the policeman responsible for the attack, although a Public Prosecutor’s Office official allegedly witnessed the incident,
Jehovah Witnesses, who were allegedly briefly harassed by police during street preaching, aswell as Catholics, Ahmadi Muslims and Hare Krishna devotees were cited by Forum 18 as among other groups expressing concerns about the new law’s impact.
Nazarbayev, who has autocratically ruled the 70-percent Muslim country for over 20 years, has defended the new law as a way to tackle extremism. “The new law … more clearly defines the rights and duties of religious organizations and outlines the role of the state in strengthening the religious tolerance of our society,” Nazarbayev said.
Christian activists have suggested that autocratic leaders in former republic Belarus and Kazakhstan view new groups, including growing evangelical churches, as a threat to their powerbase.