The pastor of a church in Gomel, the second largest city in Belarus, has been fined by the Gomel Central District Court. Despite the fact that the church has state registration, the congregation has also been prohibited from meeting together since the church was raided by police during a Sunday service on 11 June where 20 members had gathered together in a rented building to worship. And in Svetlogorsk, a town in the Gomel region, armed police raided a house church and have since fined two church members and filed cases against 17.
According to Forum 18, Pastor Nikolaenko was fined 3,600,000 Belarusian Roubles (£150; €210; US$235) on 19 June under Administrative Code Article 23.34, Part 2, which lays out punishments for the unauthorised organisation of public events. Refusing to pay the fine, he will appeal the court’s decision.
On 25 June, Pastor Nikolaenko’s home was searched by police. “I’m shocked,” he said, “as I thought that the case is closed and I’ve already been fined.” Police said they were looking for literature of a “sectarian character” but finding nothing, “they asked for a list of church members and documents on the church’s activities,” he told Forum 18.
In Svetlogorsk, a town in the Gomel region, church members Vladimir Daineko and Yuri Volodenko were fined on 8 June after armed police raided their house church on 17 May. The District Prosecutor, Vladimir Tarasenko, told the men that if they are found guilty of infringing the law again within a year, their religious organisation would be liquidated.
When 17 other church members refused to testify against the two men in court, police registered cases against each one. One of those who refused to give information, Lyubov Kundas, was fined 1,440,000 Belarusian Roubles (£60; €85; US$95) for not answering the question, “Who was reading the Bible when the police came?”
The owner of the house where the church was raided, Nadezhda Daineko, was also charged for “improper use” of her home.
The government in Belarus enforces strict regulations on Christian groups and requires all religious communities to register with the State. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report released earlier this year, the severity of the regulations has “driven some groups underground. Officials are particularly hostile towards religious groups viewed as political opponents, such as Protestants.”
Obtaining state permission is often made difficult for Christian groups who are politically “disfavoured”, although Pastor Nikolaenko’s congregation did in fact have state registration. Although religious meetings in private homes are not prohibited, there are tight restrictions on the number of people permitted to attend as well as the frequency of the meetings.