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Repressive Belarus religion bill stalled in parliament until fall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Efforts in Belarus to pass a repressive religion bill fell short June 28 when the parliament’s current session ended, Keston News Service reported July 1.

The bill — which would be the most repressive religion law in any former Soviet republic other than Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan — will return to the parliament’s two chambers in October, unless a special session of parliament is called in the interim.

According to Keston, the bill would:

— outlaw unregistered religious activity.

— introduce compulsory prior censorship for all religious literature.

— restrict publishing, education and charitable activity to faiths that had 10 registered communities in 1982.

— ban all but occasional, small religious meetings in private homes.

Leaders of four main Protestant communities in Belarus — Baptists, Pentecostals, Full Gospel Church and Adventists — along with leaders of minority faiths, have sharply criticized the bill, Keston reported.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate — the biggest denomination in Belarus with more than 1,200 registered parishes — has backed the bill unequivocally.

“We hoped the law would be adopted in this session,” spokesman for Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev), Andrei Petrashkevich, told Keston by telephone from Minsk July 1. “Unfortunately it wasn’t.” He said his church had spoken up for the “urgent adoption” of the law many times.

Petrashkevich told Keston the bill has support from “all the traditional faiths, the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Jews and the Muslims.” Only the “neo-Protestants” and the “new religious movements” were unhappy with it, he claimed.

Anatoli Novikov, an official of the upper chamber Council of the Republic’s Commission for Social Questions, which is now handling the bill, confirmed to Keston that it will be considered in parliament’s autumn session, which begins on Oct. 2, “unless there is the need to call an extraordinary session.”

“There have been no such calls at present, but according to the constitution the president can call an extraordinary session if enough deputies demand it, though this is very rare,” he told Keston from Minsk July 1.

A move to rush the bill to passage, in an 82-2 June 27 vote in the lower Chamber of Representatives — just a day after it had been postponed until the fall — failed to push the bill into the upper Council of the Republic.

German Rodov, head of the Bible Society in Belarus, declared in a June 27 statement issued to Keston, “… today I have the impression that in taking these decisions the deputies are completely ignoring the views of tens of thousands of Belarusian citizens. This law is a fiasco for the Chamber of Representatives as a parliament and testimony to its bankruptcy.”

Rodov reflected, “Yesterday, when I learned that consideration of the draft law had been postponed until the autumn, I thought that common sense had prevailed among the deputies.”

Warning that the bill will take Belarus “back to 1936 and Stalin’s repressions,” Yan Spasyuk, leader of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, which has been denied registration, told Keston from the village of Pogranichny on June 28 that the Moscow Patriarchate “feels its weakness in the face of our church and the Protestants. That’s why they decided to change the law.”
Compiled by Art Toalston from reporting by Keston News Service in London, at www.keston.org.

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