BELARUS: Cases Against Christian Paper Editor and Distributors Dropped.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 4 July 2001

Administrative cases against some twenty volunteers who had distributed an interdenominational Protestant newspaper on the streets of the Belarusian capital Minsk have been dropped, Keston News Service has learnt. Also facing administrative charges was the editor of the Slovo (Word) newspaper, Aleksandr Velichko, but he told Keston from Minsk on 4 July that he too is no longer facing charges. `The case was closed at the end of May due to the lack of evidence of a crime.' He professed himself surprised at the move to drop all charges.

The newspaper's distributors got into trouble in April after distributing copies of Slovo with a supplement advertising an evangelistic campaign organised by Jews for Jesus and held from 18 April to 5 May. The authorities argued that although the paper was registered with the State Committee for the Press, distribution of the supplement was illegal. `They can distribute the paper, but the leaflets were issued by a religious organisation that is not registered and its activity is therefore banned,' Alla Ryabitseva, head of Minsk executive committee's department for religious and ethnic affairs told Keston on 2 May (see KNS 3 May 2001).

Velichko was accused under Article 193 of the administrative code, that punishes `founding and leading an underground religious organisation' with a fine of up to five times the minimum monthly wage. The other volunteers were facing charges under Article 172 part 3 of the administrative code, which lays down fines of up to three times the minimum monthly wage for `distributing a paper without registration'. All those accused were facing proceedings in their place of residence, and it is not clear where the decision was taken to drop all the charges against the group. (END)