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Belarus: Repression Escalating Ahead of Elections, plus India Updates

December 15, 2005
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 357 - Wed 14 Dec 2005

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BELARUS: REPRESSION ESCALATING AHEAD OF ELECTIONS plus INDIA UPDATE
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Belarus is known as Europe\'s last Soviet-style dictatorship, and
President Lukashenka as a repressive, controlling, pro-Soviet
dictator. In 2002, Belarus enacted Europe\'s most repressive
Religion Law. All religious groups must be registered with the
government; registration is very difficult to achieve; and all
unregistered religious activity is illegal. Lukashenka, who has
perfected election fraud, has also amended the Belarus\'
Constitution, removing the limit on the number of terms a president
can serve, so he may now stand again in the next presidential
elections and effectively rule for life. He is presently clamping
down on all freedoms and stepping up security in preparation for
the 2006 presidential elections.

The lower house of the Belarusian National Assembly, the Chamber of
Representatives, has passed a tough new security bill making
\'discrediting the Republic of Belarus\' a criminal offence. It will
also be criminal to train or take part in street demonstrations,
which could lead to regime change, as in Ukraine. Belarus\' security
forces (KGB) will have powers to act against those who commit
\'crimes against the state\', e.g., by reporting repression and
persecution, so discrediting Belarus. This will seriously impact
churches and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), stopping them
communicating concerns and reporting persecution and repression to
the outside world, or even to the UN Special Rapporteur on the
situation of human rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin. The bill goes
to the upper house, the Council of the Republic, for final approval
on FRIDAY 16 DECEMBER. It is expected to pass easily.

The struggles of the New Life church in Minsk were raised in RLP
327 (Wed 25 May 2005). Having been refused registration, the 600-
strong church found nobody would rent premises to them, so they
purchased a cowshed where they started meeting and worshipping. The
authorities then fined the church for allegedly violating the Land
Code, as a cowshed may not be designated for religious use. The
church\'s pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, had been fined frequently,
and the church\'s administrator, Vasily Yurevich, had been
threatened with criminal charges for repeatedly organising illegal
worship. Religious Liberty monitor Forum 18 (F18) reports that on
17 August the Minsk City Administrative Committee (MCAC) ordered
the sale of the cowshed. New Life church challenged the ruling, but
on 27 October Minsk\'s Economic Court validated the MCAC\'s order.
The state will now confiscate New Life\'s property.

F18 recently saw a report written by Vasili Marchenko, a top
religious affairs official in the Brest region of Belarus.
Marchenko expresses regret that officials have not been active
enough in controlling and repressing religion. He complains \'of the
state\'s failure to return an alternative Orthodox community to the
Moscow Patriarchate, failure to stop Baptists conducting two or
three services a week, "freely and systematically distributing
religious literature", and conducting "an illegal water baptism"
lasting over four hours with over 300 participants\'. Marchenko
describes the situation as \'depressing\' and vows to ensure religion
is brought under control by the end of the year.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* all Belarusian officials and KGB who deal with Christians and
confiscate Christian literature, that God will use the witness of
his Church and of his word to lead many to Christ. \'But because
of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us
alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression - it is
by grace you have been saved.\' (Ephesians 2:4,5)

* Belarusian believers to keep growing in wisdom, grace, patience,
love, knowledge of the word of God and faith in their Redeemer,
that they may mature with eyes fixed on Jesus, preparing for the
time when their sowing in tears becomes reaping in joy.

* God to awaken all Belarusians to the need for justice and
liberty, and give them courage to stand for what is right and
good.

* freedom for the Church to be a blessing to all Belarus with her
gospel message, to the glory of God.

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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REPRESSION ESCALATING IN BELARUS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

Known as Europe\'s last Soviet-style dictatorship, Belarus in 2002
adopted Europe\'s most restrictive Religion Law, seriously impacting
mission and increasing persecution. All unregistered religious
activity is illegal, and registration is very difficult to achieve.
President Lukashenka is busy clamping down on freedom, preparing
for next year\'s presidential elections. \'Discrediting the Republic
of Belarus\' will be a new criminal offence. An individual, church
or NGO reporting repression or persecution to the outside world
will be guilty of a \'crime against the state\', attracting the wrath
of the KGB and the government. A senior official recently lamented
that officers had not repressed the church enough: religion was not
under control, as believers were still worshipping, handing out
literature and conducting baptisms. He has vowed to fix this before
Christmas. Please pray for the Church in Belarus.

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INDIA UPDATE: In RLP 353 (16 Nov) we prayed for a Believers Church
in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Hindu militants
bashed Pastor Feroz Masih and threatened to burn his congregation
alive on Sunday 20 November unless they converted to Hinduism.
Twenty believers went to church that Sunday not knowing if they
might die there. God wonderfully intervened and turned the hearts
of the police to protect them. However Hindu militants have now
taken over this church by force and converted it into a Hindu
shrine. Siding with the Hindu militants, local officials are
refusing to intervene. Please pray for justice, protection and
divine wisdom.

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NEXT WEEK\'S CHRISTMAS RLP will be the last in 2005 and will focus
on the problem of terrorism at Christmas. In several countries
believers risk life-threatening terrorism in church to celebrate
the Saviour\'s birth with the Church on Christmas Day. We must not
neglect them, but lift them before the Lord over the Christmas
period.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.