BELARUS: RELIGIOUS REPRESSION; PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 19 MARCH
Belarus is ruled by Soviet-style totalitarian dictator, Aleksandr
Lukashenko. Popularly elected in 1994, he has since then maintained
his grip on power through propaganda, repression, fraud and
violence. In late 2002 Belarus adopted the most repressive Religion
Law in all Europe. Unregistered religious groups are illegal, and
registration is severely restrictive. In 2003 Lukashenko decreed
that his Soviet-style official Belarusian ideology must be taught
across the nation to give Belarus ‘immunity’ from ‘infection’. In
October 2004, Lukashenko won a rigged referendum that purportedly
gave him both a mandate and the right to amend the constitution and
run for re-election in 2006. In December 2005 the government passed
an ‘urgent’ amendment to the Criminal Code, making it illegal to
‘discredit the Republic of Belarus’. It has been at great risk that
reports of systematic KGB-orchestrated religious persecution have
continued to leak out of Belarus.
On 3 March Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of Minsk was sentenced to ten
days’ imprisonment for conducting worship in his home. He is pastor
of Christ’s Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, one of two Reformed
Baptist churches refused registration. Pastor Vyazovsky is believed
to be the first pastor in Belarus to be imprisoned for religious
activity since the Soviets released religious prisoners under
glasnost (openness) in the mid-1980s. Vladimir Bukanov, a fellow
Reformed Baptist pastor who attended the trial told religious
liberty monitors Forum 18 <
accusations against him were that people were reading the Bible,
praying and singing hymns in his house.’
Pastor Vyazovsky was released on 13 March, but Forum 18 reports
that the Pentecostal Minsk regional bishop, Sergei Tsvor, who is
also first vice-chairman of the Pentecostal Union and pastor of the
Minsk-based Good News Church, is facing the same charges. The Good
News Church is registered, but the authorities are persecuting the
100-strong fellowship with a 2003 law which bans public
demonstrations. In analysing the situation, Forum 18 wonders if the
right to hold worship services is being interpreted as separate
from the right to exist. Pastor Tsvor is awaiting a summons to
appear in court.
The Belarus presidential election will be held on Sunday 19 March.
Most of the Belarus opposition parties have united in a coalition,
the Congress of Democratic Forces of Belarus, behind Alexander
Milinkevich. The other opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, was
recently beaten up by KGB officers. However these men have
virtually no access to the media and their supporters are
intimidated, beaten, imprisoned, and ‘disappeared’. The KGB alleges
they have uncovered a coup plot, whereby the opposition, upon
losing the vote, will cry foul, cite fraudulent exit polls, and
provoke an uprising. Lukashenko’s response to this is: ‘If there
are provocations, we’ll give them such a going-over they won’t know
what’s hit them.’ China and Iran have voiced support for
Lukashenko. Analysts expect the polls to be rigged, Lukashenka will
win, and those with enough raw courage to take to the streets to
‘defend their choice’ will be met with crushing, deadly violence.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:
* God to give heavenly wisdom and direction to Belarus’ pastors
and Christian leaders, so they may lead his flock according to
his will through the difficult days ahead.
* God to protect the churches, draw them into prayer, increase
their faith, and secure justice for Pastor Sergei Tsvor.
* God to breathe a thirst-like longing for openness, justice and
liberty into the hearts of Belarus’s voters, along with the
courage to vote for it and demand it.
* for revival and reformation to come to Belarus’s large,
influential Orthodox and Catholic churches; may all who profess
Christ’s name stand united in brotherly love and righteousness,
for justice, liberty and the Church in Belarus.
* the Lord to intervene and restore openness, justice and liberty
to Belarus. The Lord’s promise: ‘…and my arm will bring
justice to the nations.’ Isaiah 51:5
SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
BELARUS: RELIGION REPRESSED; PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 19 MARCH
On 3 March Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of Christ’s Covenant Reformed
Baptist Church in Minsk was sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment for
conducting worship in his home. He became the first pastor to be
jailed in Belarus for religious practice since the mid-80s glasnost
(openness). Pastor Vyazovsky served his ten days and was released.
But now Pastor Sergei Tsvor of the Minsk-based Good News Church is
facing the same charges. Meanwhile, Belarus is gearing up for
presidential elections on Sunday 19 March. The incumbent, President
Lukashenko, is a Soviet-style totalitarian dictator determined to
hold on to power at any cost. Analysts expect the vote will be
rigged, demonstrations will be crushed with brutal force, and
repression will escalate. In 2002 Belarus enacted the most
repressive religion law in all Europe. Please pray for God to
intervene and restore openness, justice and liberty to Belarus.
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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.