July 27, 1998

Dear friends, Through the courtesy of Mr. Victor Kolpashikov, I pass on to you an excerpt from BELARUS UPDATE, which he edits, reporting on recent events regarding the case of Bishop Petro Hushcha.  BELARUS UPDATE is a regular news bulletin of the Belarus Human Rights Support Project of the International League for Human Rights.  For clarification, the Belarusian National Church of the Augsburg Confession, which recognizes Bishop Hushcha as its leader, is in a sense a "reformational" movement within the Belarusian Autocephalous (Orthodox) Church, mentioned in Mr. Kolpashikov's report.   Also, I will once again state that we in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church are very suspicious about the validity of the charges made against Hushcha, given the Soviet-style tactics that are often used by the Belarusian government to discredit dissenters, and given the fact that those who know Hushcha well and who work closely with him speak very highly of his character and tell us that they believe the charges to be completely unfounded.  We have never declared that we know with certainty that he is innocent, but until we see some real evidence to the contrary, we are giving him the benefit of the doubt, and are presuming his innocence.  We have, of course, also asked concerned parties to contact the Belarusian government in order to express concern about, and interest in, this case, and to request that all of Hushcha's civil and religious rights be respected as the case is litigated. You may have heard in the news about the diplomatic row currently taking place between Belarus and many other countries, including the United States.  The Belarusian government evicted several diplomats from their residences in Minsk.  In response, the U.S. government recalled its ambassador for consultation.  It also asked the Belarusian ambassador to the U.S., who was vacationing in Belarus, to remain there.  At this point, therefore, additional letters to the Belarusian embassy in Washington about Bishop Hushcha's case will probably be of little effect.  Please do continue to pray for the Bishop, for his beleaguered church, and for his troubled country. If you have forwarded previous messages about Bishop Hushcha to others, please be so kind as to do so with this message as well. Cordially in Christ, David Jay Webber Rector, St. Sophia Ukrainian Lutheran Theological Seminary Ternopil', Ukraine ------------------------------------------------------ From BELARUS UPDATE, Vol. 1, No. 9 (July 1998): PETR HUSHCHA FACES TRIAL ON AUGUST 18 Rev. Hushcha, leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous Church, will be tried on August 18 by Judge Gennady Dashuk of Sovetsky District Court. Since March 6, 1998, Rev. Hushcha, a cleric not recognized by the Belarusian state, has been kept in custody in Volodarskogo Prison in Minsk. Arrested on the street by plainclothes security agents, Rev. Hushcha was originally charged with having illegal sexual relations with minors (Art. 118 of the Belarusian Criminal Code). Later, the charges were changed to public masturbation in a lavatory. David Goldman, the Executive Director of the Belarusian Interconfessional Association, reports that the charges appear unfounded and are actually designed to harass a disliked clergyman. In late April, Bishop Hushcha was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. On May 20, he was determined to be of sound mental health and transferred back to the Volodarskogo Prison, where he was subsequently charged with another crime: "violent hooliganism against police officers," (Art. 201 of the Belarusian Criminal Code). Michael Volcheck, eminent human rights lawyer, will be defending Peter Hushcha in court. (Belarusian Interconfessional Association, July 9). In response to an inquiry from the League, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has responded in detail with allegations that Bishop Hushcha had been charged  with criminal offenses in the past, including assault, and that he had been diagnosed with "creeping schizophrenia" in the Soviet era. The Belarusian government cites the names and ages of two minors who have allegedly given testimony about the reverend's lewd behavior. The League notes that the diagnosis of "creeping" or "sluggish" schizophrenia has now been repudiated in Russia and Ukraine and by various international psychiatric authorities since its lack of defined symptoms mean that states can misuse it to harass dissenters. The League also notes that due process principles, including access to counsel, have been violated in the bishop's case, and we are keeping it under investigation, although we cannot comment definitively on the validity of the charges at this time. Noting that a number of political opposition figures have recently been charged with clearly fabricated criminal offenses, we urge that the OSCE Advisory Group in Minsk and other international observers follow the case closely. (ILHR, July 14) ______________________________________________________ Get Your Private, Free Email at http://www.hotmail.com