KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 8, Article 17, 15 August 2000

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

SUMMARY:
BELARUS: FIVE DAY DETENTION FOR AUTOCEPHALOUS
ORTHODOX PRIEST. Fr Ivan was recently led away from a church service in
handcuffs and later sentenced to a short prison term apparently to prevent him
speaking at a national event. There are suggestions that such moves might be
part of a complex and bizarre plan by the Belarusian government to create an
Orthodox Church independent of Moscow.

Tuesday 15 August 2000
BELARUS: FIVE DAY DETENTION FOR AUTOCEPHALOUS
ORTHODOX PRIEST

by David Goldman, Keston News Service

Autocephalous Orthodox priest IVAN SPASYUK has once again been
harassed by the authorities, being led away from a church service in handcuffs
and later sentenced to a short prison term apparently to prevent him speaking at
a national event. Father Ivan declared last year that he was leaving the
jurisdiction of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church
(Moscow Patriarchate) and joining the Belarusian National Orthodox Church,
an organisation trying to achieve recognition as the autocephalous Orthodox
Church in Belarus. There are suggestions that the moves against Father Ivan
might be part of a complex and bizarre plan by the Belarusian government to
create an Orthodox Church independent of Moscow, something they have
hitherto vehemently opposed and obstructed, though it remains unclear how the
measures against Father Ivan fit into this scenario.

On 28 July Father Ivan was serving the liturgy at his church in the village of
Pogranichny, Grodno region. The church belongs to a Belarusian National
Orthodox Church congregation which has not been registered by the
authorities. During the service several policeme broke into the church and, after
putting Father Ivan in handcuffs, tried to drag him out of the building by force.
On the porch the priest managed to break free, jumped into his own car which
was standing nearby, locked the door from the inside and switched on the car
alarm. Not wanting to provoke Father Ivan's parishioners, the policemen drove
away. With the help of his parishioners, Father Ivan took his family from their
house and drove immediately to the regional centre, Grodno, where he hoped to
receive assistance from the General Consulate of Poland, but the Polish
diplomats refused to help him. Father Ivan, dressed in his full priestly robes
and with handcuffs on his wrists, spent three hours waiting at the entrance to
the Consulate.

On 1 August Father Ivan delivered a statement to the regional Procurator's
Office setting out what he regards as the `persecution' of him by the law-
enforcement agencies. Father Ivan then learnt that the police archives contain
no records of any of the police actions taken against him. Even the record of his
detention on 28 July and his subsequent release from handcuffs was missing.
This is despite the fact that the media have photographs of an unidentified
police lieutenant removing Father Ivan's handcuffs.

Father Ivan then submitted a written demand to the Procurator's Office of
Lenin district in Grodno for the return of his passport, which had been
confiscated by the policemen. When he came to collect the passport, he was
forced to get into a police minibus together with his three young children and
taken to the village of Berestovitsa a few kilometres from Grodno. There an
administrative court hearing immediately took place, lasting just a few minutes.
Father Ivan was charged with disobeying the police and sentenced to five days'
detention. He was taken at once to a solitary cell for temporary detention, while
his children were sent to the district hospital, where they were later collected by
his wife.

Father LEONID AKALOVICH, a priest of the Belarusian National Orthodox
Church, told Keston that he believes the authorities stepped up their action
against Father Ivan to prevent him appearing at the All-Belarusian Congress,
which took place on 29 July and at which Father Ivan was planning to speak.
Father Leonid reported that the authorities were continuing, without any
reason, to deny registration to Father Ivan and his parishioners as a
congregation of the Belarusian National Orthodox Church (see KNS 18
December 1999).

However, some human rights activists told Keston that they believe that recent
changes in the political climate in Russia have led the Belarusian authorities to
decide to support the creation of an autonomous Orthodox Church in Belarus,
making use of Father Ivan in pursuit of aims that are not yet clear. The head of
the Belarusian National Orthodox Church, Bishop PETRO (HUSHCHA),
shares this view, believing that the measures against Father Ivan were part of a
plan to create an autonomous Orthodox Church wholly under the control of the
state.

The representative for religious affairs of Grodno Regional Executive
Committee told Keston that he knows nothing of any actions taken by the law-
enforcement agencies against Father Ivan. The representative declined to
discuss Father Ivan's case further and terminated the conversation, saying he
was extremely busy. Keston was unable to contact the Polish diplomats at the
General Consulate in Grodno. (END)


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