Preaching in a park leads to arrest of Belarusian pastor
Pastor Vladimir Stepanovich Burshtyn was handcuffed and taken to court. His offence was preaching the Gospel in a local park.
The Belarusian pastor has to pay a fine worth two weeks of salary, InVictory writes. According to InVictory, his penalty is an example of the growing criminalisation of ordinary religious activities by the Belarusian authorities.
Together with a group of believers, pastor Burshtyn went to a park on May 27, Dr Hyun Suk Foli from the organisation Voice of Martyrs in Korea wrote this week. “They played instruments, sang and distributed Christian literature to everyone”, she adds. However, the activities came to a sudden end when two police cars drove up, and officers took the pastor into their car and brought him to the police station for interrogation.
The pastor was released the same day. However, on June 1, he received an order to report himself at the police station to draw up a protocol on the offence, Voice of Martyrs writes. Police officers told his wife and children, who called, that Burshtyn had eaten and was resting. However, in reality, the pastor was handcuffed and detained for the night.
Despite the hardships he had to endure, pastor Burshtyn sang and prayed in the prison during the night, says Foli. “He pleaded not guilty because he is convinced that preaching the Gospel is not a violation of public order.”
The next morning, the church leader had to appear before court, handcuffed and well, Foli says. Church members and relatives, however, were not allowed to enter the courtroom. The trial took about one and a half hours before the pastor was taken into an isolation ward, adds the Voice of Martyrs spokesperson. “Everyone who asked about him was told that the trial was being postponed to another time and place.”
The meeting restarted in a different building later that day. The judge deemed the church leader guilty of “violating the established procedure for holding another mass event.” Via the mail, Burshtyn received a fine of 555 rubles, which constitutes about 200 euros. In other words, it is an amount that is worth two weeks of salary. At the end of July, the authorities phoned the pastor to warn him that he could face criminal charges if he continued to preach.
The case of Burshtyn worries Foli. “Reports from the United Nations and human rights watch groups highlight high-profile cases of religious discrimination involving governments, but far more disturbing, in our opinion, is the growing number of lesser-known cases of ordinary Christians engaged in ordinary Christian activities, who end up being fined or imprisoned by ordinary police officers and judges who apply ordinary laws to do so.”
Belarus claims that its laws are not directed against religion but against individuals who ignore safety rules that protect citizens. Yet, Foli does not believe them. “They argued that Vladimir Burshtyn should have obtained permission in advance so that the authorities were prepared in case there were medical emergencies at his event”, she says. However, that does not explain why a 70-year-old street preacher was handcuffed, taken to an unknown location, given a secret trial and fined without the possibility of an appeal”, Foli adds. The Voice of the Martyrs expects that this is only the first case of believers being prosecuted in Belarus. Recently, the Belarusian regime introduced a new draft law for religion. Foli is convinced that it will weaken the position of Christians in the country even more.
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