BELARUS: Krishna Community to Challenge Registration Denial.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 12 August 2002

Belarus’ small Hare Krishna community is preparing a legal challenge to the long-standing refusal by the authorities to register a headquarter organisation. Without such registration, a leading community member told Keston News Service from the Hare Krishna temple in the Belarusian capital Minsk on 9 August, the community cannot invite leaders from abroad. “We can’t associate with our spiritual teachers. This is something that is very important to us,” a member of the council of the Minsk community, who preferred not to be named, told Keston. He added that the community’s lawyer is now preparing to lodge a complaint in court.

The council member reported that the community had first lodged an application to register a headquarters with the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs in May 2001. “They are supposed to respond within one month, but the whole process has been dragging on and on,” he declared. “They kept finding reasons why this part of our statute was wrong, then that part. They never gave a final refusal.” The most recent version of the application was lodged in June of this year, but after a month the State Committee called community members to instruct them to come to collect the documents as they were still inadequate.

Frustrated by the foot-dragging, the community lodged a complaint at the court of the Central district of Minsk on 4 July. The court then instructed the State Committee to reply definitively by 5 August whether it was going to register the Hare Krishna headquarters and, if not, to give a substantive reason for the refusal. The State Committee did reply by the deadline, declaring that registration was being refused as the juridical address provided by the community did not meet the requirements of the law, a charge rejected by the council member. “Our lawyer says there is no basis to this complaint.”

Keston tried to reach Stanislav Buko, chairman of the State Committee, by telephone on 9 August, but he was not in the office. His deputy, Vladimir Lameka, was away on holiday. A secretary at the State Committee, who was familiar with the committee’s rejection of the Hare Krishna application, insisted that only Buko could respond to Keston’s enquiries as to why the Hare Krishna headquarters had repeatedly been denied registration.

The Hare Krishna council member told Keston that the community was challenging the State Committee through the courts only reluctantly. “We wanted to resolve this amicably. No-one wants to go to court.” He insisted that their sole aim is to secure the registration and to ensure that their constitutional rights to freedom of conscience are not violated.

He refused to speculate over whether the State Committee is deliberately dragging out the application until the proposed new law on religion is adopted, which would impose draconian new requirements on religious communities and would make it impossible for the Hare Krishna community to register a headquarters (see KNS 1 July 2002). The new law – if adopted when it returns to the upper house of parliament after 3 October – would make it illegal for groups without a registered headquarters to provide religious education, conduct charitable activity or publish or import religious literature.

The Hare Krishna council member told Keston that of the twelve communities that exist in various parts of Belarus, only seven have managed to gain state registration. “The authorities don’t want to register the other five.” He estimated that each community has some twenty or thirty active members. He said that so far they have been able to meet and have been able to produce and import Hare Krishna literature. (END)