KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00 6 April 2001

I. BELARUS: JURIDICAL ADDRESS DIFFICULTIES OBSTRUCT
JEWISH REGISTRATION. Four Reform Jewish communities are among a
range of religious communities whose registration is being obstructed
because the government insists the juridical addresses at which they are
attempting to register their communities are unacceptable. Yakov Basin,
chairman of the Minsk-based Religious Association of Communities of
Progressive Jews, told Keston News Service on 23 March that the
difficulties �stem from the government's attitude to all non-Orthodox
religious communities.'

II. BELARUS: DEADLINE LOOMS OVER JURIDICAL ADDRESS
CHANGES. Religious organisations whose juridical address is a private flat
have until 1 June to find an alternative juridical address and gain re-
registration if they want to avoid losing their legal status. A government
official told Keston News Service that the change would not obstruct the
functioning of religious communities, but others see the move as part of a
targeted campaign to put pressure on non-Orthodox religious groups.

I. BELARUS: JURIDICAL ADDRESS DIFFICULTIES OBSTRUCT
JEWISH REGISTRATION

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Four Reform Jewish communities are among a range of religious
communities whose registration is being obstructed because the government
insists the juridical addresses at which they are attempting to register their
communities are unacceptable. Yakov Basin, chairman of the Minsk-based
Religious Association of Communities of Progressive Jews, told Keston
News Service on 23 March that a further four Reform communities have
finally lodged registration applications with the local branches of the
government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs (CREA) after a
search for an acceptable juridical address lasting up to a year. `The
difficulties are not a result of any government anti-Semitism,' Basin said,
`but stem from the government's attitude to all non-Orthodox religious
communities.'

Basin was speaking to Keston from the United States, where he was
attending a meeting of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, as well as
the annual meeting of the Jewish human rights group the Union of Councils
for Soviet Jews, of which he is Minsk bureau chief.

However, the deputy chairman of the CREA Ivan Yanovich played down the
registration obstructions. `We will meet Basin and the other Jewish leaders
and sort out the situation with them,' he told Keston by telephone from
Minsk on 26 March. `This is a working process and there has been no
definitive registration refusal.' Yanovich defended the provision in the
Housing Code adopted in 1999 that banned religious, social and commercial
organisations from using private flats as their juridical address (see separate
KNS article).

Although Belarus' current religion law allows religious groups to meet in
private homes, the housing code bans such meetings. `This is not in
accordance with the law,' Basin complained. `Many of our communities had
registration with juridical addresses of private flats. They are being asked to
re-register with new juridical addresses. They are also being told for
example that they cannot open a bank account until they re-register with a
correct juridical address.'

Of the 18 Reform Jewish communities in Belarus, only ten have registration.
They have no synagogues and, according to Basin, have difficulty finding
other places to meet for worship. They have one rabbi, Nelli Shulman, who
is originally from Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

Basin reports that among the four communities which have so far found it
impossible to find suitable juridical addresses are two communities in Minsk
and one in the western town of Brest. One of the Minsk congregations has
265 members, Basin reported, and includes a group of Jews who are deaf or
hard of hearing for whom there is a special ministry using sign language.
Even they, however, have been unable to meet in the Institute for the Deaf
and Hard of Hearing.

The four further communities that have lodged their registration applications
and are awaiting a response are based in Baranovichi, Borisov, Slutsk and
Mozyr. `These communities have eventually found suitable juridical
addresses and have been seeking registration for up to a year, but the
documents have been returned several times for various reasons,' Basin told
Keston. However, he says the local religious affairs administrations have
now accepted the documentation, implying that a decision will soon be
taken.

There has been less difficulty gaining registration for the Reform Jews'
umbrella body, the Religious Association of Communities of Progressive
Jews. The CREA issued its registration certificate on 16 February. `It took us
half a year to find a juridical address,' Basin reported, `but once we found
one - at a public building belonging to the Minsk Tractor Factory - it all went
very fast. It was done in five days.' He contrasts the speed of processing of
the application at national level with the slow and arbitrary handling of
registration applications at local level. (END)

II. BELARUS: DEADLINE LOOMS OVER JURIDICAL ADDRESS
CHANGES

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Religious organisations whose juridical address is a private flat have until 1
June to find an alternative juridical address and gain re-registration if they
want to avoid losing their legal status. The deputy chairman of the
government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Ivan Yanovich,
told Keston News Service from Minsk that those who fail to gain re-
registration by the deadline also risk being fined under the Administrative
Code. He dismissed suggestions that this change would obstruct the
functioning of religious communities. `It is not a problem for religious
groups to find a juridical address,' he claimed. However, Oleg Gulak, acting
chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, told Keston that the move
was part of a targeted campaign. `It is a hidden form of pressure on new
religious groups, above all Protestants, in defence of the Orthodox Church.'

The compulsory deregistration of organisations registered at juridical
addresses in private flats - which affects commercial, social and religious
organisations - followed changes to the Housing Code in 1999, although for
religious organisations the move is only now taking effect. `Social
organisations were affected first,' Gulak told Keston by telephone from
Minsk on 6 April. `Late last year officials began making complaints against
religious organisations registered at private flats.'

Speaking to Keston on 26 March, Yanovich said that more than 3,000
religious organisations - ranging from individual communities to central
bodies, monasteries and religious charities - currently have registration in the
country. He was unable to say, however, what proportion of the 3,000
currently have registration at juridical addresses in private flats, although it
was common in the 1990s, he said, for religious organisations to be
registered at such addresses. He claimed that religious organisations
registered at private addresses that have a separate entrance in a block of
flats or at private detached houses are not required to reregister.

Gulak did not know either how many of the 3,000 registered religious groups
were affected by the move, but believed `more than half' might have
registration at private addresses. He pointed out that by contrast, the
Orthodox Church had no such problems. `All their communities have
registration and their own buildings. Even new Orthodox churches have no
problems getting registration.' He rejected Yanovich's claims that religious
organisations would be able to find alternative juridical addresses without
problems. `There is almost no private property in Belarus. The state has
strong control.'

Gulak believed the change to the housing code was part of a coordinated
campaign against religious groups the government does not like. This also
included Decree No. 36, signed by President Aleksandr Lukashenko last
year, which required permission from local authorities each time a religious
organisation wished to hold a religious meeting or service in a property not
designed for religious use. `This has affected almost all religious groups that
rented cinemas, houses of culture or other such property for services.' Many
Protestant churches without their own buildings have had to halt public
services.

Asked why the change in the housing code was instituted, Yanovich said
there were `various reasons' but he could not speak on behalf of parliament.
`I can only imagine it might have been for sanitary reasons or, because many
people come to such organisations, neighbours might complain.' However,
he admitted that his committee had not received or heard of any complaints
from people living next to addresses in private flats of religious
organisations. `Our committee does not have such complaints, but maybe
this is because ours is a republic-wide body and complaints might have gone
to local branches of the religious affairs administration.'

Asked whether this change to the rules did not restrict religious freedom,
Yanovich laughed. `Each country has its own rules.' He stressed that the rule
applies not just to religious organisations but to social and commercial
organisations too. `These restrictions apply to all, not just to religious
organisations.' Asked whether fines would not be seen as an attack on
religious liberty he responded that organisations would be fined, not
individual believers. `No-one has been fined yet,' he stressed.

In addition to the changes to the housing code and the de facto ban on
religious meetings outside dedicated religious premises, Belarus is also
planning to amend the country's religion law. Although a draft text was
leaked to the newspaper Lichnost last year, the current draft is being worked
out in secrecy. Yanovich refused to give Keston a copy of the current draft.
Gulak told Keston that when he and his colleagues met members of the
parliamentary commission in human rights on 5 April they were told that the
text would not be made public until it is discussed at the next session of
parliament, due to convene in the spring. Believers of many faiths fear that
the revised law will make public activity by non-favoured religious groups
even more difficult. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.