Religious organisations in Belarus face shutdown under law amendments

08-01-2024

Eastern Europe

CNE.news

Police block an entrance of a church in Minsk, Belarus. Photo EPA, Tatyana Zenkovich

Churches in Belarus have to submit to stricter requirements of the state. Law amendments make it easier for the authorities to liquidate a religious community.

Churches in the country must be re-registered before January 2025. If they do not comply, they will lose permission to exist. The changes are part of the amendments of the law on the activities of religious organisations, IRP writes. The law makes the operation of existing churches more difficult and sets a higher bar for planting a new church in the country. On January 3, the presidential press services announced that President Alexander Lukashenko put his signature under the document.

Churches only receive a registration when they consist of at least 15 local communities and have existed for at least 30 years, InVictory reports. People who are on a blacklist of “extremists and terrorists” are not allowed to start a church at all. Also, without registration, it is not allowed to operate a church.

Political activities

Under the new law, religious organisations are allowed to participate in social activities, such as maintaining an orphanage or helping elderly people. However, they are forbidden to engage in political activities or participate in or support a political party, for example. In addition, they may only use religious symbols and no political ones. Also, participating in rallies is forbidden, and worship services may only take place in a premise that is designated by the local executive committee.

The law amendments also tighten rules for Sunday schools, according to Mediazona. They must not contain “propaganda of war, hostility and extremism” and also have to be in line with the “ideology of generally recognised traditional values” of Belarus.

It also becomes easier for the Belarusian state to liquidate churches. “Activities that contradict the main directions of the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus or harm the health of Belarusians” are sufficient for the government to close a church.

Several media mention the similarity between the new Belarusian law and its Russian counterpart.

European Parliament

Last month, an American researcher, Dylan Schexneydre, published a report on the situation of religious freedom in Belarus in 2023, Belarus 2020 writes. In it, Schexneydre points out that religious freedom continues to decline under President Lukashenko. He calls it a matter of grave concern.

The persecution of religious leaders in Belarus also does not go unnoticed in the European Parliament. On December 14, the EP adopted a resolution that mentions the persecution of clergy in Belarus explicitly.

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