BELARUS: Repressive Religion Law Gets President's Signature.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 31 October 2002

Belarus' highly repressive new religion law - the most restrictive in Europe - was signed by President Aleksandr Lukashenko this morning (31 October), the official news agency Belta reported. The law will come into force ten days after its official publication. News of the president's signature brought a mixture of resignation and defiance among minority religious communities, many of which have protested vigorously against its adoption (see separate KNS article).

The new law outlaws unregistered religious activity; requires compulsory prior censorship for all religious literature; bans foreign citizens from leading religious organisations; religious education is restricted to faiths that have ten registered communities, including at least one that had registration in 1982; and there is a ban on all but occasional, small religious meetings in private homes.

The new law was approved by the lower house of parliament on 27 June and by the upper house on 2 October. The president signed the law immediately after his return from a visit to the Gulf states. It remains unclear why it took him so long to decide whether to sign or not (see KNS 23 October 2002) or whether indeed he signed it within the period specified by Belarus' constitution.

Immediately the law enters into force, religious organisations must begin bringing their statutes into line with the new law. In any case, parts of their statute that contradict the new law will no longer be operative. All religious organisations must apply for re-registration within two years. Parliament will have to approve amendments to a range of other laws and regulations to bring them into line with the new provisions of the law.

Keston tried to find out from the government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs in Minsk what measures will now be taken against religious communities, but was told that all officials were on a work visit to Polotsk today, 31 October. Keston could not reach officials of the committee in Polotsk on their mobile phones. (END)