Repressive Religion Law Distresses the Minorities

The President’s signature on the Repressive Religion Law has been a cause of distress for the minority religious communities and a major reason of disappointment for the Human Rights Activist as learned by Keston News Service. The common reception of the news has been negative, even the major religious bodies such as Orthodox and Catholic Church are taking up a guarded approach.  The minority religious groups on the other hand believe this law will make it impossible for them to carry out their religious activities, may even prompt them to go underground.

The president’s signature on the new religion law has not received favorable reaction from the masses. The minority religious groups and human rights committees have shown their disapproval quite openly. There is turmoil and despair in the air. The subjection of Bishop Sergei Khomich, Pentecostal Union Leader was pretty eminent in the comment made to the Keston News Service on Thursday "There is nothing we can do about it although we believe it is undemocratic and violates the constitution”. The news was greeted with defiance and somewhat resignation from the minority groups. Minsk Hare Krishna’s community chairman; Sergei Malakhovsky voiced his thoughts in these words “This new law will … institute harsher control not just on new religious groups but even on the Orthodox Church".

The news has not been welcomed in the political circles as well. Most of the parliamentarians and opposition leaders consider this law as unconstitutional. On October 31, Ivan Pashkevich, member of the lower House of Parliament, communicated his fears by telling Keston News Service that “conflicts between religious confessions [will flare up] as a result of this law". The same very thought has been worrying the security police Komitet Gosudarstvennoii Bezopasnosti (KGB).  KGB strongly resisted this law for the security and safety concerns of the people living in Belarus.

The human rights groups have no different views. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee has strongly negated this move by the president. According to the executive chairman of the group, Oleg Gulak, the situation will be worse than it was ever before as “Many communities will lose their registration”. He further said, “Religious organizations will have to drop everything and spend the next two or three months running around from one office … If even one little thing in their statutes does not accord with the law re-registration will be denied”. His concerns also loomed over the fact that many religious communities will choose underground activities in given situation. The minority groups’ concerns such as Sakovich are “We had no registered communities until 1991, so we don't have the twenty years' existence needed”. Jehovah's Witnesses also share similar views.

The Russian Orthodox Church is refraining from making any pertinent comment. When asked to comment on president’s law the official spokesman only made this statement, “You will have to speak to Andrei Aleshko, the Church's legal adviser”. The church bodies have been polarized into strong supporters of the law and restrictive supporters. The comments of Catholic leaders also reflect a safe course chosen by them as Fr Igor Kandraceu, a Greek Catholic priest told Keston, “This new law is based on the contemporary reality of Belarus”. Ivan Jurkovic, Vatican Nincio, held the view that it can be viewed from different perspectives, “[Some] will compare it with international standards. We have not yet done that".

In this situation there are still a few who refused to resign. Father Yan Spasyuk from Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church has decided to file a petition against this law. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europehas also reiterated their concerns regarding the enforcement of this law which discriminates religions in minorities and prohibits them from performing their religious duties together without a registration.