Christian in Belarus Faces Possible Prison Sentence for Praying with the Homeless
BELARUS: Praying in homeless shelter a crime
When a Christian in Belarus saw homeless people in need, he opened up his home to them and provided food, shelter and a place to bathe. However, when he provided a room for them to pray in if they wanted to, the government stepped in to investigate this “crime.” “I am a Christian and I started to help those who are in need,” he told Forum 18. Unfortunately, in Belarus all religious activity is required to be registered with the government with permission granted before any activity can start. Apparently this includes praying with the homeless in your own home.
By Olga Glace
07/02/2013 Belarus (Forum 18)- A young Catholic layman who turned his home in a western Belarus village into a shelter for homeless people, with its own prayer room, is being accused of leading an unregistered religious organisation, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Aleksei Shchedrov – who says he has helped about 100 local people since December 2011 – is being investigated on criminal charges which carry a maximum possible sentence of two years’ imprisonment.
Shchedrov denies the authorities’ accusation of founding an unregistered religious organisation. “I am a Christian and I started to help those who are in need,” he insisted to Forum 18 on 24 June from the village of Aleksandrovka, Grodno [Hrodna] Region. “I give them food, a bed, a bath and clothes and I pray together with them. But this is no religious organisation, just charity.”
Local police launched the criminal investigation against the 28-year-old Shchedrov following raids on the shelter in February and April. He is being investigated under Criminal Code Article 193-1. This punishes “organisation of or participation in activity by an unregistered political party, foundation, civil or religious organisation” with a fine, or imprisonment for up to two years.
Asked what he was going to do now the criminal investigation has been launched, Shchedrov told Forum 18 that in the past he would have campaigned against such action against him. But nowadays, he said, his faith teaches him to “trust God who teaches me to forgive and love enemies and those who persecute us”.
Roman Catholic priest Fr Aleksandr (who did not want to give his surname) used to visit the shelter regularly. He praised Shchedrov’s work, and regretted that the authorities chose to ignore homeless people, alcoholics and drug addicts. Fr Aleksandr confirmed that there was no religious community in Aleksandrovka, but that people came together just for prayer. “So according to the law it’s a crime to pray together and one should do it alone hiding under the blanket or under the bed,” the priest remarked ironically.