Belarus: Homeless shelter closed by authorities

March 19, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

belarusEurope, March 12, 2014: A homeless shelter run by a young Christian man in Belarus has been stripped of its legal status after what appears to be a campaign of official opposition to the charitable project.

Aleksei Shchedrov (29), a primary healthcare worker, turned his home in the village of Aleksandrovka, Grodno Region, into the shelter, and since it opened in December 2011, it has given refuge to around 100 homeless people.

He was charged in June 2013 for leading an unregistered religious organisation; the authorities took issue with a prayer room at the site, though Aleksei insisted that he was running a charity, not a religious organisation.

The case attracted wide publicity in Belarus, and the local media launched a smear campaign against the Christian.

He nevertheless managed to obtain registration for the shelter as a social care institution on 27 August, and the charges against him were dropped on 11 September.

But after a series of inspections by police and local officials, the centre was stripped of its legal status on 7 February. The 13 current residents could now end up back on the streets, and Aleksei may again face criminal charges.

Aleksei told Forum 18 that he faced daily pressure from the authorities and that the object of their visits seemed to be to find faults with the shelter, which comprises three houses, one of which is used as a canteen.

In January, a tax office official “threatened to impose such taxes that I wouldn’t be able to pay them”, Aleksei said.

Shortly afterwards, he was fined 39,000 Roubles (£2; US$4) for improper electric wires outside the house and a chimney without bricks on the exterior of the summer kitchen. He said that this was a “heavy burden” for the shelter, which spends this sum on bread for two weeks.

A “sanitary inspection” was the final nail in the coffin for the centre. It criticised the short distance between the shelter’s well and poultry shed, without even taking a water analysis; its findings were used by local police and officials to rescind the shelter’s legal registration.

They are pressuring Aleksei to register the centre under church auspices instead. Local church leader Yury Gritsko told Forum 18 that the authorities’ attitude would be different if the shelter had registration under his denomination, adding, “At the moment Aleksei is on his own and there’s nobody to defend him.”

However, it is not possible for a denomination to register with the state an organisation that does not have legal status and is run by an individual.

Aleksei is nevertheless continuing to care for the shelter’s residents and is optimistic about the centre’s future, saying, “A lot of people in Belarus know and support me.”

– barnabas team

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