Saturday, February 17, 2007

Belarus, bastion of religious intolerance: 10 Americans ordered to leave

Belarus sounds like a dandy place to visit. Well known for its religious intolerance and other grievous human rights violations, and headed by Alexander Lukashenko (#14 on Parade's 20 Worst Dictators), I'm not sure why anyone would want to travel to the former Soviet Republic, considering all the rules and regulations imposed on visitors, but travel they do.

10 Americans were forced to leave the country, Friday, after being threatened with deportation for violating certain religious laws. Apparently singing religious songs is deemed subversive enough an action to warrant deportation, but that's exactly what happened; although according to Oleg Slepchenko, Interior Ministry spokesman, the Americans chose to leave "voluntarily" rather than be officially tossed out. Guests of an evangelical Protestant Church in Mogilev, the Americans arrived in Belarus on February 5th and were supposedly participating in conversational English seminars, until a police raid discovered [gasp] bibles, and instead of conversation [double gasp] song, of the religious type. They had been fined and cautioned not to engage in further illegal religious activities on another occasion, but chose to "violate" the law, once again.

Even though the Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant (and favored) religion in Belarus, Lukashenko signed a law, in October 2002, requiring all religious groups and organizations (including the Russian Orthodox) to re-register with the government. Most chose to do so, because unregistered religious groups are not legally allowed to gather for religious purposes. Many of those groups continue to meet, in spite of the potential for legal action.

Bella Belarus!


Blazing Cat Fur said...

This has been an on going issue in various of the former Soviet republics. They have a fear of Evangelists especially of the American variety and will use the slimmest of excuses to expel anyone they consider suspect, which come to think of it is everyone. Stalin's shadow lurks, ever paranoid.

Incognito said...

It's odd because it's not as if they shun all religions. They seem to be fine with their Islamic and Orthodox contingency.
And why the evangelists, I wonder?