BELARUS: "We, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the church .."

Source:             www.forum18.org

Date:                  November 12, 2021

 

 
 
FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway

The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one's belief or religion
The right to join together and express one's belief

=================================================

Friday 12 November 2021
BELARUS: "We, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the
church .."

Prison officials finally allowed Catholic political prisoner Mikita
Yemialyianau a pastoral visit on 3 November. He had just ended a three-week
hunger strike in protest at the denial of a clergy visit since his transfer
to Mogilev prison in 2020. Prison officials prevented him from renewing a
subscription to a Catholic newspaper. Prison officials finally allowed
Orthodox Christian Yelena Movshuk a clergy visit in October, her first
since her August 2020 arrest. Prison officials prevented her attending a
worship meeting in August 2021. "We, political prisoners, were not allowed
to attend clubs, the church, the gym or places of study," a political
prisoner freed in September declared.

BELARUS: "We, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the
church .."
https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2696&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw2uGQi5tzbSI2F7ShhzcEKB">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2696
By Olga Glace, Forum 18

The regime continues to obstruct political prisoners' access to pastoral
visits from clergy and to receive religious publications. Roman Catholic
Mikita Yemialyianau was on hunger strike from 11 to 31 October, partly in
protest against denials of pastoral visits from a priest since his transfer
to prison in Mogilev in 2020. A letter he sent to a priest asking him to
visit never reached the priest. Prison officials finally allowed
Yemialyianau to have a pastoral visit from a priest on 3 November.

Prison officials refused to allow Yemialyianau to subscribe to a Catholic
diocesan monthly newspaper for the second half of 2021 after confiscating
the May issue. Officials claimed the May issue could not be given to him as
publications "promoting war, incitement to racial, national and religious
hatred, violence or cruelty, and publications of a pornographic nature"
cannot be given to prisoners (see below).

Yemialyianau has attended Mass regularly since he was 10 years old and
served as an altar boy from the age of 15, according to his mother. "I
believe that finding himself in a difficult situation and facing this
ordeal, Mikita turned to the Word of God for support and consolation,
especially in the absence of clergy visits," Nastassia Yemeliyanava told
Forum 18 (see below).

Yelena Movshuk, a 45-year-old Orthodox Christian, repeatedly tried to get a
pastoral visit from a priest from the time of her arrest in August 2020.
She hoped to have a pastoral meeting with an Orthodox priest who held a
service in the prison in Zarechye in Gomel Region in August 2021, but
prison officials prevented her from attending. A different Orthodox priest
was able to make a pastoral visit to Movshuk in October (see below).

Prison officials have prevented other political prisoners from attending
the limited worship meetings allowed in prison. A nurse from Vitebsk,
Yuliya Kasheverova, freed on 16 September after nearly a year in detention,
complained that "we, political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs,
the church, the gym or places of study" (see below).

Since opposition emerged to the falsified 2020 presidential elections, the
regime has arrested hundreds of individuals and handed down many long or
short jail terms to punish them for opposition or perceived opposition to
the regime. The Viasna (Spring) human rights group counted 846 people it
recognised as political prisoners as of 12 November 2021
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://prisoners.spring96.org/en&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw03u90LYbPoL5U2qHtMQFit">https://prisoners.spring96.org/en), including Yemialyianau and Movshuk.

Encouraged by the state, prison authorities single out political prisoners
for special treatment, a human rights defender from the A Country to Live
In Foundation supporting political prisoners maintained. "The position of
the state is to break the will and the spirit of the individual to make
them lose their belief," the human rights defender told Forum 18 on 2
November.

Meanwhile, a court in Gomel Region punished a Council of Churches Baptist
for baptising his son in a lake in a ceremony attended by about 25 people.
On 27 August, Rechitsa District Court found Andrei Trifan guilty of holding
an unapproved "mass event or demonstration" and fined him 20 basic units,
the equivalent for him of six weeks' wages. The Regional Court rejected his
appeal in October. This is the first known fine on a Council of Churches
Baptist since October 2018 (see below).

Earlier denials of political prisoners' freedom of religion and belief

Since the mass arrests from late 2020, political prisoners and their
relatives have repeatedly complained that prison authorities restrict their
rights to freedom of religion and belief
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2672&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw0UQCu4GLNhr5wV5itAnYBY">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2672). These restrictions
often violate the law (see below), as well as violating Belarus'
international human rights commitments.

After her 18 March arrest, Olga Zolotar repeatedly requested a visit from a
Catholic priest, as did Catholic representatives. However, the
Investigative Committee which is handling the criminal case against her
refused such permission. Finally, on 2 June the prison administration
allowed a visit by the Vatican nuncio, Archbishop Ante Jozic
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2672&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw0UQCu4GLNhr5wV5itAnYBY">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2672). Zolotar's mother
earlier tried to hand in a prayer book for her, but the prison
administration refused it.

While awaiting trial in Minsk's Investigation Prison No. 1 up till April
2021, Pavel Severinets requested a visit from an Orthodox priest in writing
on at least five occasions, while his wife Volha requested such a clergy
visit on three occasions. Representatives of religious organisations also
requested visits with him. However, over nine months not one pastoral visit
was permitted (https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2672&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw0UQCu4GLNhr5wV5itAnYBY">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2672).

"The denial of access of priests to political prisoners who are religious,
and the use of discriminatory and repressive measures against them are
unacceptable in a democratic and legal state and grossly violate one of the
fundamental human rights," Christian Vision declared on 4 May. "Believers
are left for many months without access to the sacraments of confession and
communion, and without the spiritual support they need."

Denials of clergy visits are in violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules
for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules, A/C.3/70/L.3
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf)&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw16CoQAU00lrFDgB-LTNul0">https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf)).
Rule 65 includes the provision: "Access to a qualified representative of
any religion shall not be refused to any prisoner."

Denials of access to worship meetings and religious literature are also in
violation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Rule 66 declares: "So far as practicable, every prisoner shall be allowed
to satisfy the needs of his or her religious life by attending the services
provided in the prison and having in his or her possession the books of
religious observance and instruction of his or her denomination."

On 15 July, Forum 18 asked the Department for the Implementation of
Punishments of the Interior Ministry in Minsk in writing why prison
administrations deny prisoners' (particularly political prisoners) freedom
of religion or belief, including the right to have clergy visits and to
receive and have religious literature and objects, such as neck crosses.
Forum 18 received no reply by 12 November.

Prisoners' freedom of religion or belief in Belarusian law

Article 12 of the Criminal Enforcement Code guarantees prisoners serving
sentences freedom of religious belief, where prisoners "are allowed
individually or with other prisoners" to profess, express and share any
faith "and participate in carrying out religious worship, rituals and rites
not banned in law". They are also allowed to have and use religious objects
and literature.

However, Article 12 restricts the ability to exercise this freedom by this
statement: "In conducting religious worship, rituals and rites, the Rules
for internal order of prisons or the rights of others who have been
sentenced must not be violated."

Under Article 174 of the Criminal Enforcement Code, prisoners sentenced to
death are allowed visits from a priest. However, against the UN Standard
Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (known as the Mandela Rules,
A/C.3/70/L.3
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf)&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw16CoQAU00lrFDgB-LTNul0">https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf)),
such prisoners may not be granted pastoral visits they request
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2612&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw1LTPsjVrTz3y6_HC9o3BA8">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2612). Death-row prisoners
are informed of their executions only minutes beforehand, making final
meetings with families and others such as clergy impossible.

Paragraphs 116 and 117 of Interior Ministry Decree of 13 January 2004 (most
recently amended on 30 June 2021) on the rules for Investigation Prisons,
and a similar Interior Ministry Decree of 30 November 2016 (most recently
amended on 2 August 2021) related to Temporary Detention Centres, make
provision for prisoners on remand to have religious literature and other
objects, as well as receive visits from clergy.

"Persons on remand are allowed to have with them and use religious
literature, objects of religious cult for individual use for body or pocket
wear, except for piercing and cutting objects, items made of precious
metals, stones or of cultural and historical value," declares Paragraph 116
of the 2004 Interior Ministry Decree.

"In order to provide spiritual assistance to persons on remand, at their
request and with the permission of the body conducting the criminal
proceedings, it is allowed to invite representatives of religious
denominations registered in the Republic of Belarus to the pre-trial
detention centre. The services of the ministers of religious confessions
are paid at the expense of the persons who are obsessed with the guards,"
declares Paragraph 117.

However, the 30 June 2021 to the Interior Ministry Decree of 13 January
2004 stripped those held in Investigation Prison of the right to subscribe
to newspapers and magazines. This would deprive them of the right to
subscribe to any religious publications (see below).

Rules for prisoners serving sentences in prisons (as set out in a 20
October 2000 Interior Ministry Decree, most recently amended on 10 August
2021) and in open prisons (as set out in a 13 January 2017 Interior
Ministry Decree, most recently amended on 22 October 2019) note that
prisons can have places of worship. However, the rules contain no
guarantees of freedom of religion or belief for prisoners.

Human rights defenders told Forum 18 that prisoners in open prisons can
generally visit nearby places of worship if they wish to in non-working
time.

Clergy visits to political prisoners often denied

From 11 to 31 October, 21-year-old Roman Catholic Mikita Yemialyianau, who
is serving his four-year sentence in Prison No. 4 in Mogilev for protesting
against the jailing of political prisoners, held a hunger strike, including
to protest against denials of clergy visits.

Arrested on 19 October 2019, a Minsk court jailed Yemialyianau in February
2020. His appeal was heard in March 2020. He was transferred from Minsk
Investigation Prison No. 1, where he was once allowed to see a priest, to
Mogilev's Prison No. 4 on 9 June 2020.

Yemialyianau's mother Nastassia Yemeliyanava told Forum 18 that since
autumn 2020 he has been asking for a visit from a Catholic priest but the
prison authorities in Mogilev denied his requests, citing coronavirus
precautions. On 30 June, the Interior Ministry announced that it had opened
up prisons again to visitors from outside, claiming that the coronavirus
situation had improved.

"After the Covid-19 measures were cancelled, Mikita resumed his requests,"
she told Forum 18 on 6 November. "But he was given some absurd replies
like: 'The prison is visited only by an Orthodox priest', or 'The request
should be addressed to the Department for the Implementation of
Punishments'. He didn't know whom to write to."

On 3 October, Mikita Yemialyianau asked for a visit from a Catholic priest
of his choice and sent him a letter, Nastasiya told Forum 18, but the
priest never came. The priest told Forum 18 on 4 November that he received
neither a notice from the prison nor the letter from Yemialyianau.

On 11 October, following a twenty-day incarceration in the punishment cell
for alleged violation of the prison's internal rules, Yemialyianau began a
hunger strike for two reasons: the denial of clergy visits and blocking
correspondence with his best friend. He ended the hunger strike on 31
October. Prison officials finally allowed Yemialyianau to have a pastoral
visit from a priest on 3 November, his mother told Forum 18.

Yemialyianau has attended Mass regularly since he was 10 years old and
served as an altar boy from the age of 15, according to his mother. "I
believe that finding himself in a difficult situation and facing this
ordeal, Mikita turned to the Word of God for support and consolation,
especially in the absence of clergy visits," Nastassia Yemeliyanava told
Forum 18.

Forum 18 called Mogilev's Prison No. 4 to ask why prison officials had
denied Yemialyianau pastoral visits from a priest for so long, as well as
refusing his subscription to the "Catholic Herald" newspaper (see below). A
prison official told Forum 18 to either send a written enquiry or make an
appointment in person with the Prison Head Aleksandr Lauer.

Yelena Movshuk, a 45-year-old Orthodox Christian, is serving a six-year
jail term in Prison No. 24 at Zarechye in Gomel Region for participating in
opposition protests. Arrested in August 2020, she was sentenced in Brest in
April 2021.

Movshuk repeatedly tried to get a pastoral visit from a priest from the
time of her imprisonment. However, prison officials approved no pastoral
meeting with a priest between August 2020 and October 2021, a human rights
defender familiar with her case told Forum 18 on 5 November.

An Orthodox priest who found out from the Christian Vision group of
Movshuk's wish to confess wrote to her in August 2021 inviting her to a
worship service in Prison No. 24 scheduled on 25 August. He said she would
be able to talk to him and make her confession there. However, the prison
administration prevented her from attending.

"From my own experience I know that all letters addressed to prisoners are
censored and given to them opened," the priest told Forum 18 on 5 November,
"so there is a possibility that my letter has not reached Yelena."

The priest added that when he was a chaplain in Gomel Prison No. 4 from
2002-5, he did not observe any religious freedom violations. "Most likely
the situation changed at the end of 2020," he commented to Forum 18, "and
became reminiscent of Stalin's camps, where criminals were pitted against
political prisoners and family visits were a reward."

A different Orthodox priest was able to make a pastoral visit to Movshuk in
October, the human right defender told Forum 18.

The human right defender could not say whether Movshuk is now allowed to
have regular clergy visits or to attend the church, as the only way of
communication is through letters. "According to the information we have,
clergy are not allowed to visit political prisoners using any pretext,"
commented the human right defender. They pointed out that Movshuk, like
other political prisoners, is deprived of everything which ordinary
convicts have access to.

The phone of Prison No. 24 in Zarechye was unanswered each time Forum 18
called between 4 and 12 November.

For political prisoners, religious literature often denied or restricted

On 30 June, an Interior Ministry decree (which came into force on 23
September) removed the right of those held in pre-trial Investigation
Prison from subscribing to newspapers and magazines (see above). Those
already convicted and serving prison sentences have the right to subscribe
to any newspapers and magazines at their own expense under Article 89, Part
1 of the Criminal Enforcement Code.

However, in most cases there is discrimination of political prisoners,
according to a human rights defender of the A Country to Live In
Foundation. "Generally religious literature subscriptions are prohibited,
as well as handing it in," the human rights defender commented to Forum 18
on 2 November. "They may restrict people in taking meals, but to leave them
without being able to read religious literature is inhuman and cruel."

Nastassia Yemeliyanava told Forum 18 that sometimes religious books
(including the Bible and prayer books) sent to her son Mikita Yemialyianau
were given to him, but parcels with books are limited to 2 kilograms per
year. "Soon the time will come for another book parcel and I am going to
send him a catechism among other books," she added.

Nastassia Yemeliyanava said her son had no problem subscribing to the
"Catholic Herald", a monthly newspaper of the Vitebsk Roman Catholic
Diocese, while he was being held in Investigation Prison No. 1 in Minsk and
in Temporary Detention Centre No. 8 in Zhodino. He was even allowed to
subscribe to it for the first six months of 2021 when he was already in
Mogilev Prison No. 4. However, prison officials did not hand to him the
last publication and denied his request to renew the subscription till the
end of the year.

In the response on 16 June to Nastassia Yemeliyanava's complaint (seen by
Forum 18), the then Acting Head of Prison No.4 Dmitry Yeliseyenko insisted
that all the publications Yemialyianau had ordered were handed to him
except for the May issue of the "Catholic Herald".

Yeliseyenko referred to Criminal Enforcement Code Article 89, Part 2, which
prohibits prisoners "to receive, acquire, store and distribute publications
promoting war, incitement to racial, national and religious hatred,
violence or cruelty, and publications of a pornographic nature; as well as
subscribing to them". He did not specify which part of the "Catholic
Herald" contained the prohibited information.

Yeliseyenko also maintained that the prisoner did not apply for
subscription to the "Catholic Herald" for the second half of 2021.
Nastassia Yemeliyanava commented that prison officials had crossed out this
newspaper by hand from the list of publications that prisoners could
subscribe to.

For political prisoners, attending prison worship meetings often denied

Several current or former political prisoners have noted the difficulty of
attending the limited meetings for worship allowed in prisons. The
administration of Prison No. 24 at Zarechye in Gomel Region prevented
Orthodox Christian Yelena Movshuk from attending a worship service in the
prison on 25 August (see above).

A nurse from Vitebsk, Yuliya Kasheverova, was freed from prison on 16
September after nearly a year in detention, mostly spent in Prison No. 4 in
Gomel. "In the labour camp there were courses in a foreign language and
economics," she told the Reflection blog on 21 September, "but we,
political prisoners, were not allowed to attend clubs, the church, the gym
or places of study. All that remained was to read books."

Fined for unapproved baptism in lake

Council of Churches Baptist Andrei Trifan from the town of Vasilevichi in
Gomel Region baptised his son in a lake on 1 August. About 25 people
participated in the ceremony, including ten of Trifan's relatives, Council
of Churches Baptists noted.

Council of Churches Baptists choose not to seek state permission to
exercise freedom of religion or belief.

While the baptism was underway, an unknown man who was driving past took
pictures from his car and sent the information to the police. Officers then
drew up the record of an offence against Trifan under Administrative Code
Article 24.23, Part 2 ("Violation of the procedure for organising or
conducting a mass event or demonstration") of the new Administrative Code
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2627&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw0c_YUx7pFPOokbIKiS4Pdj">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2627), which came into
force on 1 March 2021. Officers then submitted the case to court.

On 27 August, Judge Stanislav Ivanyutenko of Rechitsa District Court found
Trifan guilty and fined him 20 basic units, 580 Belarusian Roubles (2,025
Norwegian Kroner, 205 Euros or 240 US Dollars). This represents about two
weeks' average wage.

Forum 18 called Rechitsa District Court on 3 November to find out why
baptising a child can be considered a public event. However, the court
secretary refused to put Forum 18 through to Judge Ivanyutenko and said
that information can be given only to participants in a case.

Denying his guilt, Trifan appealed to Gomel Regional Court, insisting that
Article 24.23, Part 2 is not relevant for his case. In his appeal he
referred to the Constitutional provisions guaranteeing "the right
individually or in a group to profess any religion, express and preach
their belief, participate in religious practices and rituals not prohibited
by law". However, in October the Regional Court rejected his appeal.

The phone of Gomel Regional Court was unanswered each time Forum 18 called
between 5 and 12 November.

"In both courts they told me that they understood my reasoning but had to
impose a fine anyway," Trifan told Forum 18 on 9 November. He pointed out
that the fine is to him the equivalent of six weeks' wages. He expects the
fine to be deducted from his salary in small portions over several months.

Trifan does not intend to lodge further appeals. "It is too expensive to
proceed with it and I realised that it makes no sense because the result
will be the same," he maintained to Forum 18.

This is the first known court punishment handed down to a Council of
Churches Baptist since October 2018. Police in Lepel in the north-eastern
Vitebsk Region detained husband and wife Andrei and Tatyana Fokin to stop
them singing Christian songs and distributing Christian literature at the
entrance to the town's market. Officers took them to a police station,
where they were charged under Article 23.34, Part 3 of the then
Administrative Code, which punished repeat offences. Lepel Court fined them
in October 2018 (https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2437&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw1-zyYSfLo8GD4r69o6fdeR">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2437), and
Vitebsk Regional Court upheld the fines the following month.

On 5 August 2021, a Deputy Head of Minsk City Executive Committee Artyom
Tsuran warned New Life Protestant Church in Minsk that if it continues to
meet for worship each Sunday in the church car park church members risk
prosecution under Administrative Code Article 24.23, Part 2 or more serious
criminal charges (https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2682&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw1IRfK7nSPaoMxbAF4i3o_W">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2682).
Bailiffs forcibly evicted the Church from its building in February
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2639&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw0uNMXFFkvMauAf1K4arBbr">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2639).

The Church has continued to hold its Sunday meeting for worship outdoors in
the car park, most recently on 7 November. (END)

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Belarus
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?query%3D%26religion%3Dall%26country%3D16&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw2rwQz5xjzJCr2ZO8yGdIim">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=16)

For more background, see Forum 18's Belarus religious freedom survey
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D2612&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw1LTPsjVrTz3y6_HC9o3BA8">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2612)

Forum 18's compilation of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE) freedom of religion or belief commitments
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id%3D1351&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw11_TcWIc3Gxyc2wWqbRi9g">https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1351)

Follow us on Twitter @Forum_18 (https://www.google.com/url?q=https://twitter.com/forum_18&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw2ADp4WGaYEYebcYptZfRHm">https://twitter.com/forum_18)

Follow us on Facebook @Forum18NewsService
(https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.facebook.com/Forum18NewsService&source=gmail&ust=1636944712681000&usg=AOvVaw2JN-AjiacWvw1sWiOxQiUq">https://www.facebook.com/Forum18NewsService)

All Forum 18 News Service material may be referred to, quoted from, or
republished in full, if Forum 18 is credited as the source.

All photographs that are not Forum 18's copyright are attributed to the
copyright owner. If you reuse any photographs from Forum 18's website, you
must seek permission for any reuse from the copyright owner or abide by the
copyright terms the copyright owner has chosen.

© Forum 18 News Service. All rights reserved. ISSN 1504-2855.

Secure Donation

with PayPal

Pray for the Unreached