Belarus Urged to Reject New Bans on Religious Practice
Freedom House today called on Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka to reject new amendments to the country's law on religion that ban unregistered religious activity and place severe limits on the activities of minority faiths.
Despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and faiths shall be equal before the law," Belarusian government decrees and registration requirements have increasingly restricted the life and work of religious groups in this former Soviet republic.
This year alone, uniformed troops bulldozed a new Autocephalous Orthodox Church on its day of consecration; police fined Hindus for meditating in a public park; and authorities took members of the Baptist Church to court for singing hymns in public.
The Belarusian parliament approved the latest restrictions on October 2, which allow for government censorship of religious publications and prevent foreign citizens from leading religious groups. The amendments also place strict limitations on religious groups that have been active in Belarus for less than twenty years.
"Once again, the Lukashenka regime has displayed its contempt for the basic rights of its own citizens," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "The new religion law strikes a deliberate blow against freedom of religion. It also reinforces a pattern of attacks against other basic freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, and other fundamental civil liberties," she said.
Amid widening deterioration in civil liberties in Belarus, Freedom House also urges U.S. Congressional support for the Belarus Democracy Act, which provides for $30 million in assistance to Belarusian democratic forces and, among other provisions, "calls upon the Lukashenka regime to end the pattern of clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of [OSCE] commitments and to respect the basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association, language, culture, and religion or belief." The bill currently sits before the House of Representatives.
Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow with Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, is available for comment at 202-296-5101 ext. 126.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.