Baptists arrested at worship in Belarus

Police have resumed raids on meetings by unregistered Baptist churches in Belarus, according to reports by the international news service Forum 18.

By Bob Allen

Authorities in Belarus raided a Baptist church service Dec. 22 and charged three leaders with holding an unauthorized mass public event, according to an international news service that specializes in religious liberty violations around the world.

Forum 18, a news service based in Oslo, Norway, reported Jan. 13 that 10 police officers and two official witnesses broke into a private home in the southeastern town of Gomel where local Baptists meet regularly for worship.

Police arrested Pastor Aleksandr Zolotorev; a second preacher, Oleg Danilevsky; and Andrei Tupalsky, a deacon who owns the home where the group was meeting.

belarusBelarus, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, protects religious liberty in its constitution, but other laws and policies are enforced to restrict religious practice.

A 2002 religion law bans all religious activity by unregistered groups. The house church in Gomel is part of the Council of Churches Baptists, a group that refuses to register with the government as a matter of principle.

Unregistered religious activity is generally punished under a section of the country’s administrative code intended to curb political extremism. Banned activities include organizing or attending a mass event for public or political interests or protest. Violators are eligible for fines or arrest.

Government officials refused to tell Forum 18 why they conducted the raid or which law they used to place the three Baptists under arrest. Zolotorev and another pastor said they didn’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to get involved in politics.

"With God's help we'll survive the difficult times, but the detailed information is available only for Council of Churches Baptists for them to pray," Pastor Pyotr Yashchenko told Forum 18 on Jan. 8.

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