Belarus: Christian running homeless shelter face jail for praying

July 9, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

 

The authorities have taken issue with a prayer room at the shelter

The authorities have taken issue with a prayer room at the shelter

Belarus, July 08, 2013: A young Christian man who has turned his home in Belarus into a shelter for the homeless is facing up to two years’ imprisonment after being accused of leading an unregistered religious organisation.

Aleksei Shchedrov (28) is being investigated on criminal charges following police raids on the shelter in the village of Aleksandrovka, Grodno Region, in February and April.

The authorities have taken issue with a prayer room, which is used by residents and local villagers, at the site, but Aleksei insists that he is running a charity, not a religious organisation. He said:

I am a Christian and I started to help those who are in need. I give them food, a bed, a bath and clothes and I pray together with them.

Aleksei set up the shelter in December 2011 and estimates that he has since helped almost 100 people.He is being investigated under Criminal Code Article 193-1, which punishes “organisation of or participation in activity by an unregistered political party, foundation, civil or religious organisation”. Violators face a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment.

The article has been severely criticised by Belarusian and international human rights defenders. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission said it has a “chilling effect” on the activities of NGOs.

The Belarusian authorities are hostile to public faith-based social justice initiatives.

Raids and Fines

Elsewhere in Belarus, three Christian leaders in Gomel have been fined following raids on their unregistered house church gatherings.

The first took place on 24 February; 20 police officers took part, claiming to be responding to a complaint from neighbours. The pastor, Nikolai Varushin, was subsequently fined 4,000,000 Roubles (£300; US$450), which is equivalent to around one month’s local wages.

Nikolai said:

We have our eternal laws which we can’t violate. We are ready to take sufferings, fines and even death, but we’ll be faithful to God’s law.

A second house church in Gomel was raided on 14 April by around ten police officers, who blocked all the exits. The incident frightened the congregation, whose meetings have not previously been raided.

One officer said that the raid had been initiated by the KGB secret police with the aim of “revealing criminal groups”. Pastor Pyotr Yashchenko and Valentin Shchedrenok, who was preaching at the time, were each fined 200,000 Roubles (£15; US$23) on 31 May.

The three church leaders were all convicted under a law that punishes those involved in illegal demonstrations or other mass public events.

– barnabas team

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