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Police, officials and soldiers disrupt church family holiday

By Geraldine Fagan

8/17/2006 Belarus (Forum 18) A group of families from a number of Minsk charismatic churches camping in the grounds of a private house near the village of Tizhishki, in Smorgon district (Grodno [Hrodna] region) of north-western Belarus, have had their private holiday disrupted by the authorities. They were deported back to the Belarusian capital by local state representatives on the third day of their holiday.

The holiday was not an official church event, but a private camp consisting of approximately 60 parents, children and friends, the administrator of one of the churches involved, Word of Faith. Since it was located on grounds attached to a house privately owned by church members, said Andrei Frolikhin, “we didn’t think we had to get permission for it.”

A local police officer arrived soon after tents were pitched on the evening of Frolikhin said. Leading officials from Smorgon District Executive Committee and the local departments for Hygiene, Minors and Emergency Situations visited throughout the day. Claiming the camp to be in violation of health and safety norms, the state representatives took the names of participants, Froklikhin said, and announced that they would have to leave. Approximately ten soldiers loaded both campers and equipment onto a bus “like criminals”, and the group was driven the approximately 75 kilometres (48 miles) back to the capital Minsk under police escort.

Forum 18’s enquiries about the incident were directed by a receptionist to the vice-chairwoman of Smorgon District Executive Committee, Svetlana Shmyga. However, her telephone went unanswered.

“There were far too few seats for passengers and no luggage compartment on the bus provided by the authorities for the deportation,” and Andrei Frolikhin noted that this revealed the state representatives’ lack of genuine concern about the children’s welfare. While he thought that the camp could have been criticized in some respects – “we didn’t have a registered fire extinguisher, for example” – Word of Faith’s administrator emphasized that its participants have yet to be given any written explanation for the disruption, or charged with any violation. “We still don’t know the official reasons for it.”

A complaint is to be sent to officials in both Grodno region and Minsk , from church members involved in the incident. It maintains that, while participants were being driven out of Smorgon District, officials in Minsk – including the city’s senior religious affairs official, Alla Ryabitseva – telephoned those parents who had remained in the Belarusian capital. The officials reportedly asked the parents to what organization they had given charge of their children and if they knew where they were, in addition to informing them where the children would be dropped off on their imminent return to Minsk . “The fact that the majority of the children and parents are believers of various Protestant churches,” the complaint argues, “is no legal basis for interference by the Department for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Minsk City Executive Committee.”

New Life’s pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, received notice that he has been given a fine of 930,000 Belarusian roubles (449 US Dollars), for conducting a worship service without state permission. This sum is considerably higher than two fines previously imposed on Pastor Goncharenko for leading church services

Sergei Lukanin said that Pastor Goncharenko has not yet paid the latest fine, but will do so: “He has no choice – if he doesn’t, court bailiffs will come to his home and impound his personal property.”

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