Issue 3, Article 33-34, 3 April 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.



Monday 3 April 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

�In principle Aum Shinrikyo and the White Brotherhood are equal before the
law,� Protestant lawyer VIKTOR UKHVONOV told Keston on 16 March.
Article 6 of Belarus�s 1992 law on religion does indeed affirm that �all
religions and confessions are equal before the law�. Speaking to Keston on 20
March, however, chairwoman of Belarusian Helsinki Committee TATSIANA
PRATSKO said that a secret ruling by the Committee for Religious and Ethnic
Affairs denied registration to 12 groups given the special status of �destructive

Through a third party Keston obtained a list of the 12 from a member of the
religion committee on 20 March. They are: the Church of Christ (Boston
Movement), the Unification Church (Moonies), Vissarion, Scientology, the
Bogorodichny Centre, The Family, the White Brotherhood, Amadiya, the
League of Spiritual Renewal �Sanatana Dharma�, Aum Shinrikyo, the Satanists
and the Society of Veda Culture.

Belarus�s law on religion states that �the conclusions of specialists� may be
sought by the authorities should a religious community not belonging to one
already registered apply for registration (Article 16). The activity of a religious
organisation may also be brought to an end by court order if it is found to have
infringed the �life, health, freedom or dignity of personality� (Article 18).
However, the law makes no attempt to categorise different confessions, nor
does it specify the form which expert analysis should take.

The policy towards suspect religious groups which the religion committee has
evidently adopted in practice appears to have a much closer bearing on an
unsigned �letter� obtained by Keston in early 1997. This suggests the division
of religious groups into traditional, nontraditional and destructive - �the
activities of which are to be forbidden by law�. Apparently emanating from the
Belarusian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), which, it claims, �cannot
allow itself not to get involved in the processes that are reforming the state of
our country today�, the letter also proposes a �full-time expert committee
within the Council of Religious Affairs�. Upon the conclusions of this expert
committee, the letter recommends, �the Council shall make a decision
regarding the registration of a religious organisation, whether to label it as an
official religion or as a destructive religious organisation.�

Signed by prime minister SERGEI LING on 17 April 1997, Council of
Ministers ruling No 362 �On the State Committee for Religious and Ethnic
Affairs of the Republic of Belarus� allows the religion committee to create just
such a consultative committee. This may include �employees of the central
body of the committee, representatives of other republican organs of state
government, concerns, organisations, scientific and educational institutions and
social and religious organisations.� It may also draw �expert conclusions on the
beliefs, cult and charters of religious organisations and �recommendations in
a corresponding direction with the activity of the committee.�

On 20 March Keston requested an interview with chairman of the Committee
for Religious and Ethnic Affairs ALEKSANDR BILYK but was told that this
would not be possible.

On 20 March GALINA RUSEVA, introduced as a member of the �Expert
Council for Religious and Ethnic Affairs�, was the studio guest on Belarusian
national radio phone-in programme �Straight Talk�. Discussing public security
� the theme of the programme � Ruseva described how an �informational-
psychological war� was being waged in every area of life in Belarus with the
aim of altering people�s understanding and foisting upon them �alien values�.
When the host of the programme asked where the attacks were coming from,
Ruseva listed �sectarian�, human rights and other organisations, commenting
�we are practically occupied by the enemy.� The �troops� in this war, she
maintained, were foundations such as Soros, Eurasia �and various sectarian
organisations�. Gorbachev�s foundation, she alleged, was actually founded by
�the well-known sectant Moon�, while there were �several neo-
Protestant/Pentecostal foundations� operating on Belarusian territory. Such
organisations, she maintained, were ostensibly working for �the so-called
democratisation of our society� but were actually �altering our consciousness�
using methods such as neolinguistic programming. If they were not resisted,
she said, �we will cease to exist.�

Some Orthodox � and other denominations � are clearly anxious to raise the
number of religious groups in Belarus denied legal status. An article in the
March 2000 issue of Belarusian Orthodox newspaper �Voskreseniye� consists
of a testimony by the mother of an 18-year-old student who �fell into� the
Church of Christ in Minsk �without even trying to grasp why the Church of
Christ is banned on the territory of Belarus.� The article is accompanied by a
history of the Church of Christ (Boston Movement) which maintains that
�Boston Movement� is in fact a specialist term for the international Church of

On 17 March pastor of Minsk�s Church of Christ SERGEI KONONOK
stressed to Keston that his church had no contacts with the Boston Movement �
which he considered a totalitarian sect. Although fear of destructive sects had
affected the membership of his church (currently approximately 90), he said,
this was �not so much the influence of the authorities and other confessions as
of 70 years of communism in which Orthodoxy was viewed as terrible and
anything else as even worse.� When Keston showed Kononok the article in
�Voskreseniye�, he admitted that such confusion was possible, but emphasised
that he had not encountered intolerance from other confessions: �There are
people in our church who think theirs is the only true belief.� Kononok did not
think that the Orthodox Church in Belarus campaigned actively against
sectarian groups, �although I think they run rehabilitation centres for those who
were in sects.�

On 17 March an anonymous Orthodox source in Minsk related to Keston a
recent conversation he had had with VLADIMIR MARTINOVICH, head of
the antisectarian Venerable Iosif Igumen of Volotsk Information Centre
attached to the Orthodox diocese of Minsk. Martinovich maintained that all
groups other than Orthodox and Roman Catholics were �sects�, the source said,
and also lamented that it was especially difficult to close down Pentecostals as
they were growing so fast. According to the source, Martinovich also said that
he cooperated with the religion committee, whose expert committee gave
�conclusions on the basis of which you can close down any religious
organisation.� While the conversation was taking place, Keston was told, a
Pentecostal rang the Information Centre. When Martinovich addressed him
roughly and told him that he belonged to a sect, the source told Keston, the
Pentecostal was obviously offended. According to the source, it was clear from
the conversation that the Pentecostal had rung Martinovich to inform him about
the activity of Hare Krishna devotees in Minsk, which he regarded as

According to executive director of the Belarusian Interconfessional Association
DAVID GOLDMAN, destructive religious groups - which he personally
recognised by their refusal to make any form of external contact � were
continuing to function in Belarus. Scientology, he told Keston, had reregistered
as the Centre for Family Dianetics, while the Unification Church had done the
same under the title �Family Harmony.� In Goldman�s view, it was impossible
to stop such groups: �You�re punching into thin air the whole time�. In his
opinion the authorities knew this full well, but were able to use an ostensibly
antisectarian stance to target nontraditional groups: �In effect honest people
who identify themselves as a religion are penalised. Sects just say that they�re
not a religious system.� (END)

Monday 3 April 2000

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service

On 13 August 1998 16 American church workers were arrested in Grodno and
expelled. However, they did not make any official complaint or contact the US
Embassy, president of the Full Gospel Association of Belarus and pastor of
Word of Faith congregation ALEKSANDR SAKOVICH told Keston on 20
March: �We encouraged them to but they were concerned that it might prevent
them from returning on future occasions � and they began to wonder whether
they had actually violated something.�

On 22 July 1998 Sakovich wrote to Belarus� State Committee for Religious
and Ethnic Affairs requesting permission to invite three of the 16 �to participate
in preaching during services of "Living Word" church� in the city of Grodno
from 10-20 August. In his 4 August reply committee chairman ALEKSANDR
BILYK asked for information about the theological education of the three as
well as grounds for the necessity of their proposed activity.

Within a general letter of complaint to Belarusian president ALEKSANDR
LUKASHENKO written on 14 July the following year, Sakovich maintained
that his church had submitted all the documentation required under the then
active Council of Ministers Decree No 357, �On the Procedures for Inviting
Foreign Religious Workers to Belarus and Their Activity On Its Territory�,
introduced on 3 August 1995. When the religion committee demanded
evidence of the Americans� religious education, he wrote, this was supplied,
�but we did not receive any written answer before the Americans� arrival.�
Although they were present at services, the Americans came as tourists, he
maintained, �but they were arrested by the police and expelled from the

Writing to Bilyk on 17 August 1998, Sakovich maintains that the church
invited the Americans as guests, �not for constant service in Living Word
church.� One of the three, STEVE ALEKSHUCK, had delivered �not a lesson
or sermon, but his personal experiences of turning to God,� Sakovich stressed,
while the others were sitting quietly when the police arrested and fined them.
On 15 September Bilyk replied that it �followed from Decree No 357� that
details of religious education and grounds for participation in the religious life
of the community were required when a religious organisation applied to the
religion committee for permission to invite foreign religious workers.

On 17 March 1999 Aleksandr Bilyk informed departments and centres of
religious organisations in Belarus that with the introduction of Council of
Ministers Decree No 280 on 23 February, a religious organisation wishing to
invite a foreign citizen for religious activity must give �grounds for the
necessity of such an invitation� as well as a copy of a document certifying the
religious education of the invited individual. The letter states that if the foreign
citizen is being invited to conduct nonreligious activity - Bilyk gives examples
such as participation in a conference or charitable work � only grounds for the
necessity of such an invitation are required.

On 1 July assistant chairman of the religion committee I. YANOVICH wrote to
the Full Gospel Association clarifying that when applying for permission to
invite a foreign religious worker, a church must give details about the
individual�s occupation and religious education, as well as the concrete aims of
the visit. In addition, he wrote, �it should be indicated in the invitation what the
invited worker of the cult will do and that the religious organisation does not
have at its disposal preachers of the same speciality in theology in which the
invited worker will preach.�

In his 9 September reply to Sakovich�s 14 July letter of complaint to President
Lukashenko, Yanovich states that the 16 American citizens took part in
preaching activity at a prayer gathering of Living Word church in Grodno
�without corresponding permission for religious activity� and were therefore
dealt with according to Belarusian law. �The law of the Republic of Belarus on
freedom of worship and religious organisations,� he concludes, �complies fully
with international law and guarantees all necessary conditions for the activity
of religious organisations.�

On 28 September 1999 the Full Gospel Association applied for permission to
invite ten American citizens to participate in preaching activity and seminars
from 10-20 November of the same year. On 15 October Aleksandr Bilyk
replied that information on religious education had been submitted only for
three of them. �Moreover,� he wrote, �on 13 August 1998 the visiting period of
the above mentioned citizens of the USA was shortened due to violations of the
current law� as a result of which the committee �withholds a positive decision.�

On 20 March 2000 Keston requested an interview with chairman of the
Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs ALEKSANDR BILYK but was
told that this would not be possible.

According to Sakovich �the authorities believe our church is American �
Living Word was founded by Americans and they have continually cooperated
with us.� In his view, the authorities were anxious to limit the influence of a
Protestant invasion from the West, he said, as Protestant communities already
outnumbered Orthodox parishes: �Young people make up approximately 40 per
cent of Baptist congregations, 50 or 60 per cent of Pentecostals � but in Pastor
Goncharenko�s church [in Minsk] it is 85 per cent. The authorities see this is
the future and it scares them.� (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.