By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
MINSK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Supporters of the opposition in Belarus held a rally Sunday, October 28, to commemorate the victims of Stalin-era repressions, shortly after Christian missionaries said Belarusian authorities "continue the relentless pressure and persecution of the evangelical church" here.
Up to 2,000 people reportedly participated in the protest on the outskirts of the Belarusian capital Minsk, where at least 30,000 and perhaps 150,000 people are believed to have been shot and killed during the years of political purges under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Sunday's demonstrations appeared an indirect attempt to pressure President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been described by the United States and other countries as "Europe's last dictator", after winning a third term in March 2006, a vote Western observers said was "fundamentally flawed."
It came as Russian Ministries, a major mission organization active in the former Soviet Union, told BosNewsLife that the government is involved in a fresh crackdown on evangelical believers in Belarus. Russian Ministries said Pastor Gennady Kernozhitsky of the Minsk-based "God's Church" of the Christians of the Evangelical Faith group has been threatened with imprisonment and suffered "verbal abuse" after applying for permission from the local Department of Religious Affairs to build a church.
In a move resembling the Soviet times, "The head of the Department demanded that Pastor Kernozhitsky provide a list of all church members--which he refused to do. In turn, the application was denied," the group explained. He was allegedly told that "you [Protestants] multiply like rabbits," by officials who made clear that further prosecution could follow.
In addition, in the city of Gomel, Pastor Dmitry Podlobko of the "Living Faith" church reportedly received a warning from authorities to end his "illegal religious activities." On Sunday, September 30, "several minutes before the worship service began, three local authorities, including one police officer, entered the church and demanded Pastor Podlobko sign a document accusing him of "illegal religious activities," said Russian Ministries which campaigns for the churches.
Pastor Podlobko apparently refused to sign the document, citing the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations which he said provides freedom of religion. Authorities reportedly said residents had complained about the loud music and that the pastor would be "invited for a conversation." On October 9, the regional prosecutor issued said the pastor was illegally using a residential facility for religious purposes.
The church leader has also been accused of "violating the intended purpose of an organization, or conducting mass events, or picketing."
Russian Ministries said it had urged its supporters to pray for pastor but stressed it would continue to train young Christians to "lead the church in times of trials and persecution."
It said 490 students in 13 locations are participating in its 'School Without Walls' program in Belarus, representing 52 churches. Evangelical Christianity has been often seen as a threat to the power base of autocratic leaders, BosNewsLife monitored.
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