by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 18 December 2000

In the latest twist in the long-running case of the Polish Catholic priest Zbigniew Karolak, the presidium of the Brest regional court convened on 29 November and overturned the revocation of his deportation. On 13 November the same court had ruled in favour of the priest in what his lawyer Igor Kabalik described at the time as a ‘sensational’ decision (see KNS 14 November 2000). Now the court has returned to the ruling of the district court last October that the deportation order issued against the priest last May had been legal, a decision which had been criticised by the procurator. ‘In the West, when a court rules the decision is fixed,’ Kabalik told Keston News Service from Brest on 14 December. ‘Here a court can take a decision one day on the basis of materials before it and on the next day can take the opposite decision based on the same materials.’

Kabalik complained that the latest hearing took place in secrecy and he, the priest’s lawyer, had not even been informed, only learning of the hearing on 2 December. ‘Everything took place in accordance with the law,’ insisted Nikolai Shiz, a member of the regional court presidium who took part in the hearing. ‘Lawyers and other persons are allowed to attend initial hearings and appeal hearings, but are not allowed to attend review hearings,’ he told Keston on 15 December.

Kabalik also complained that the protest against the 13 November ruling had been lodged by Konstantin Timofeevich, the chairman of the regional court, who had also presided over the 29 November hearing and had signed the judgment issued by that hearing. ‘Timofeevich approved the October decision of the district court which the local procurator had himself criticised,’ Kabalik noted. Keston tried to contact Timofeevich at the regional court on 15 December to ask whether his triple role in the case had not caused a conflict of interest, but was told that he was ill. Shiz denied to Keston that this represented a conflict of interest, stressing again that ‘everything was done in accordance with the law’ and insisting that the presidium took its decision ‘objectively’.

Kabalik told Keston that the last remaining avenue for Father Karolak to challenge the latest ruling is to take the case to the country’s Supreme Court in Minsk, a decision which he said lies with the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus, Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek.

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 in May, ahead of the deportation order issued by the police in Leninsky district of Brest, after encountering increasing opposition from the Brest office of the government’s Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) and the prosecutor's office. The CRA hadrefused to extend his registration as a priest at the beginning of the year.

‘As a citizen of Belarus, I look with sorrow on the fact that a priest was expelled from my country for no reason,’ Kabalik noted. ‘He did nothing.’ (END)