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Belarus’ authoritarian chief tightens management over the nation’s spiritual teams

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TALLINN, Estonia — Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a regulation into impact that considerably tightens management over varied spiritual denominations and organizations.

The regulation, printed on the presidential web site this week, mandates that each one denominations and non secular teams reapply for state registration, which authorities reserve the precise to refuse.

It is the most recent step in Lukashenko’s a crackdown on dissent, which intensified after a disputed presidential election in 2020 gave the authoritarian chief a sixth time period in workplace. The federal government arrested greater than 35,000 protesters in demonstrations that denounced the vote as rigged, and hundreds of them have been crushed in custody. Many have been compelled to depart the nation to flee prosecution.

Since 2022, involvement in unregistered organizations grew to become a legal offense, punishable by as much as two years in jail.

Based on official knowledge in 2023, a complete of three,417 spiritual teams have been registered in Belarus, a rustic of 9.5 million. About 80% are Orthodox Christians; practically 14% are Catholics, residing principally in western, northern and central elements of the nation; and about 2% belong to Protestant church buildings.

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In the course of the 2020 anti-government protests, some Catholic and Protestant church buildings gave shelter and help to the demonstrators.

The brand new regulation provides authorities broad powers to disclaim registration and to close down any spiritual group. It stipulates that so as to be registered, a non secular group or denomination must have at the very least one parish that operated in Belarus for at the very least 30 years. All denominations and teams should reapply for registration inside a 12 months.

It additionally prohibits these accused of involvement with what authorities deem as extremist or terrorist actions from operating a non secular group, and it bans the usage of any symbols apart from spiritual ones in church companies. It additionally outlaws any gatherings in church buildings apart from for a service.

The Rev. Zmitser Khvedaruk, a Protestant pastor, stated in a phone interview with The Related Press that the regulation was “repressive.”

He expressed concern that “Protestant church buildings in Belarus will develop into the primary goal of the brand new regulation” within the predominantly Orthodox nation, particularly given their reputation amongst youthful individuals.

“Many Protestant church buildings in Belarus will face a tricky alternative — to both stop their actions or return to the darkish Soviet occasions, when Protestant church buildings successfully labored underground and illegally gathered at individuals’s houses, with (believers) praying beneath the specter of legal prosecution,” Khvedaruk advised AP.

Analysts say Belarusian authorities are searching for to tighten management over all the public sphere forward of parliamentary elections set for subsequent month and a presidential vote in 2025.

“The Belarusian authorities view the clergy as leaders of public opinion, who affect giant teams of individuals; subsequently, they attempt to take all denominations beneath tight, centralized management,” stated Natallia Vasilevich, coordinator of the Christian Imaginative and prescient monitoring group. “The brand new regulation is repressive and would not conform to worldwide requirements of freedom of conscience.”

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