by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 14 November 2000

The lawyer for Polish Catholic priest Father Zbigniew Karolak - forced to leave Belarus last May ahead of a deportation order - has welcomed the `sensational' decision of the Brest regional court to annul the deportation order. `The law as triumphed,' Igor Kabalik told Keston News Service by telephone from Brest on 14 November, the day after the court ruling. `Zbigniew Karolak can now get in a car and drive into Belarus on any day, as in a civilised state.'

Invited by the Pinsk Catholic diocese, Father Karolak served as parish priest of the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in the western Belarusian town of Brest for nine years, but was forced to leave the country after encountering increasing opposition from the Brest office of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs and the prosecutor's office.

The collegium for civil cases of the Brest regional court heard Father Karolak's appeal on 13 November against a ruling of the court of Brest's Leninsky district of 20 October. In his appeal, the priest argued that the Leninsky district procurator had exceeded his powers when he issued the deportation order and the Leninsky district court had been wrong to uphold the deportation order. The Leninsky district court's decision had also been challenged by the Brest regional procurator. The Brest regional court cancelled the October court ruling and halted the action against Father Karolak. `This means that the Leninsky district procurator did not have the right to deport Father Karolak and that the decision had been taken in violation of the law,' Kabalik told Keston. He added that he did not believe the regional procurator would challenge the ruling as he had been present in court and had himself challenged the earlier court decision.

Asked whether Father Karolak would now return to Belarus to serve as a parish priest, Kabalik declared that this was a matter for the country's Catholic leadership. `It is Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek who will decide on his future service in the church.' Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec, assistant bishop of Pinsk, and Father Viktor Borisevich are now resident in the Exaltation of the Holy Cross parish.

Kabalik placed the blame for the moves to expel Father Karolak from Belarus on the former governor of Brest region, Vladimir Zalomai, who was recently removed from office. `[President Aleksandr] Lukashenko did not want all this scandal,' he declared. `Bureaucrats were to blame.' However, he added: `Those that didn't want Father Karolak here won't be happy [with the court decision]. They are senior people.' (END)