Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Repressive religion bill put back to autumn again

Expand Messages
  • Bill Samsonoff
    KESTON INSTITUTE, OXFORD, UK ______________________________________ KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 1 July 2002 Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2002
    • 0 Attachment

      KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 1 July 2002
      Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
      and post-communist lands.

      by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

      As the current session of parliament expired last Friday (28 June),
      supporters of the restrictive new religion law failed to have the text
      approved by the upper chamber of parliament, the Council of the
      Republic, despite a last minute rush. The lower house of parliament, the
      Chamber of Representatives, voted on 26 June to postpone holding the
      second reading, only to overturn the decision and to approve the bill in a
      controversial move the following day (see KNS 28 June 2002). "The bill
      was not placed on the agenda of the Council of the Republic on Friday, as
      it had only completed passage through the lower house at 8 pm the
      previous evening," Aleksandr Vertinsky of the Council of the Republic
      secretariat told Keston News Service from Minsk on 1 July. "Deputies did
      not have time to acquaint themselves with the text approved by the lower

      Anatoli Novikov, an official of the upper chamber's Commission for
      Social Questions, which is now handling the bill, confirmed that it will
      now be considered in the autumn session, which begins on 2 October,
      "unless there is the need to call an extraordinary session". "There have
      been no such calls at present, but according to the constitution the
      president can call an extraordinary session if enough deputies demand it,
      though this is very rare," he told Keston from Minsk on 1 July.

      Vladimir Lameka, deputy chairman of the State Committee for Religious
      and Ethnic Affairs, also confirmed to Keston by telephone from Minsk on
      1 July that consideration of the law had now been put off to the autumn.

      Novikov said that his commission had not yet had time to consider the
      bill, and would not do so until after parliament resumes in October, but
      might hold seminars about the issue over the summer break.

      The Belarusian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate - the
      biggest denomination in Belarus with more than 1,200 registered parishes
      - continues to back the new draft unequivocally and is disappointed
      consideration of it has been put back to the autumn. "We hoped the law
      would be adopted in this session," spokesman for Metropolitan Filaret
      (Vakhromeyev), Andrei Petrashkevich, told Keston by telephone from
      Minsk on 1 July. "Unfortunately it wasn't." Although he said his Church
      had spoken up for the "urgent adoption" of the law many times, he
      stressed that he had no complaints against deputies of either chamber of
      parliament. "The deputies of the Council of the Republic decided they
      wanted to study the articles of the law in more detail. That is their right."

      If signed by the president, the new law would be the most repressive
      religion law in any former Soviet republic other than Turkmenistan or
      Uzbekistan. It would outlaw unregistered religious activity, introduce
      compulsory prior censorship for all religious literature; publishing,
      education and charitable activity would be restricted to faiths that had ten
      registered communities in 1982; there would be a ban on all but
      occasional, small religious meetings in private homes (see KNS 17 June
      and 28 May 2002). While Orthodox and Catholic representatives have
      broadly welcomed or accepted the bill, Protestants and leaders of
      minority faiths have sharply criticised it. Leaders of four main Protestant
      communities, the Baptists, the Pentecostals, the Full Gospel Church and
      the Adventists, held a press conference on 28 June to repeat their

      The four Protestant leaders, Bishop Nikolai Sinkovets of the Baptist
      Union, Bishop Sergei Khomich of the Pentecostal Union, Aleksandr
      Sakovich of the Full Gospel Association and Moisei Ostrovsky of the
      Adventist Church, wrote to President Aleksandr Lukashenko on 1 July to
      express their bewilderment at the hasty adoption of the bill by the lower
      house of parliament and to request a meeting to discuss continuing moves
      to adopt the law. "The impression is being created that someone wants to
      adopt this law - which would lead only to conflicts and disputes - without
      serious and balanced discussion and without taking into account the
      reality of the religious situation in our country."

      Petrashkevich of the Orthodox Church declined to comment on the
      content of the bill, claiming that it had support from "all the traditional
      faiths, the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Jews and the
      Muslims". He claimed that only the "neo-Protestants" and the "new
      religious movements" were unhappy with it. He referred all enquiries on
      the bill's content to Andrei Aleshko, legal advisor to Metropolitan Filaret.
      Keston was unable to reach Aleshko by telephone on 1 July.

      Given that the new law, if adopted, would make it impossible for foreign
      citizens to head religious organisations, Keston asked Petrashkevich
      whether the Moscow-born Filaret was a Russian or Belarusian citizen.
      "He is an ethnic Russian, but I don't know about his citizenship - I've
      never asked him and I've never seen his passport," Petrashkevich
      responded, though he said that he believed he is a citizen of Belarus as he
      takes part in elections.

      This provision in the draft law could also obstruct the emergence of the
      Armenian Church, which has not yet opened any places of worship in
      Belarus for the estimated 10,000 Armenians in the country. A spokesman
      for the Armenian embassy in Minsk told Keston on 26 June that
      ambassador Suren Harutyunyan is already in discussion over plans to
      build a church in the Belarusian capital. The spokesman said there is
      currently no resident priest, although some services have been held in
      Orthodox churches. No Armenian priests are believed to have Belarusian
      citizenship and any priest sent from Armenia to serve the church is likely
      to be an Armenian citizen, so if the new law is adopted the priest would
      not be eligible to lead the community. (END)

      Copyright (c) 2002 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

      Subscribe to the free weekly KNS Summary, or to the almost daily
      Keston News Service, through our website http://www.keston.org/. KNS
      articles are posted on the website, as well as details of our other
      publications: the bimonthly magazine Frontier and the quarterly
      academic journal Religion, State & Society.

      KNS may be reprinted or quoted providing acknowledgment is given,
      such as "Source: Keston Institute http://www.keston.org".
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.