House of Hope has to appear before the Court again.
Belarusian prosecutor's office decided today that it will appeal the
previous verdict from Minsk City Court to re-register House of Hope
to the Supreme Court. According to the General Manager of House of Hope,
Nicolai Kozel, the case will appear before the court sometime in April.
He further says that this confirms his suspicion that the forced shut-down
of House of Hope is a political decision. Mr. Kozel was off course disappointed
about the decision, but says that he and the staff of House of Hope
are getting used to impossible situations, and therefore is optimistic
that the impossible will happen again, namely a Supreme Court ruling
in favour of House of Hope. If that will be the case, nothing could
be better for us, he comments. Then everyone else will keep their fingers
off. Please go to the House of Hope site
to see how you can help us to win the case.
Religious Freedom lawyer released from prison
lawyer Sergey Shavtsov that was arrested for
soon to be released from prison
House of Hope wins court case.
March 27th the delayed trial about the close-down of House of Hope was
held, and to everybody's big surprise the judge ruled in favour of House
Pastors beaten up during demonstrations
On Saturday the demonstrations against the falsification of the presidential election result continued. The plan was to have a peaceful demonstration at the October square in the centre of Minsk, but was met with dozens of tractors and trucks, and a several thousand men strong police force. The official reason for all the tractors and trucks was that the skating rink (occupying less than 5pst of the entire square) was to be removed that Saturday, thus filling the whole square with scrap metal on wheels. When a crowd started to march towards the prison where several hundred demonstrators are jailed, the police force attacked the unarmed crowd with bats, tear gas and chock grenades. Several demonstrators where brutally beaten and kicked by the police, amongst them two evangelical pastors. As far as we know, the two pastors where not seriously injured, but they where shocked over the extreme violence used by the police. It is unknown if this was a wilful targeting from the policemen's side, since the church they are leading has many members from the opposition parties. We will come back with more on this later...
Sergey Shavtsov, a human rights lawyer, was arrested and jailed for organising a religious event without government permission. The event was an interdenominational conference with the American speaker Darrow Miller. On the last day of the conference three policemen and one KGB officer broke into the conference because, according to them, the event was an offence to the Belarusian legislation. After locking the group inside the conference hall for an hour, the police picked out two of the pastors present, suspecting them to be the main organisers of the event. They where brought to the police station. The other 35 participants had to submit their personal data to the police, and where later released. The two pastors where interrogated, but later released, after Mr. Shavtsov decided to take the full responsibility on himself for the organising. He was immediately taken to an administrative court, and after 20 minutes sentenced to ten days detention in one of the state prisons in Minsk. Mr. Shavtsov , who has for several years been handling many cases concerning freedom of speech and religious freedom, was brought to the prison directly from the court room. In Belarus organising religious events without government permission is considered a criminal act, and Mr. Shavtsov, can therefore later be tried before a criminal court, where he could be convicted to prison in up to two years. The participants can be convicted for participation, where the maximum penalty is six months imprisonment. After Friday conviction there has so far been no indication from prosecutor that the case has been closed. That means it still could be under investigation.
This is the second time in the history of Belarus that a person has been jailed for this "offence". The previous was a Baptist pastor that was jailed earlier in March.
These two cases can only be interpreted as the beginning of a new era in Belarusian law enforcement. In November 2005 an amendment was added to the existing "law on Cultic activities" that was passed in October 2002, after massive protests both from the protestant churches as well as the international community. According to our sources one has to go back to the late 1960 in the Soviet Union to find similar measures taken by the authorities against protestant believers.
Sergey Shavtsov has been a fierce fighter against the government's harsh line on religious activities. In 2002 he prepared the so called "White Book", a packet of documentation on Belarus' violation of international laws regarding religious freedom. He is also acting as a legal counsel to the main leaders of most of the protestant church unions in Belarus. He is married to Dina (also lawyer) and they have two children.
We want to let the authorities of Belarus know that we cannot accept that people are being harassed and jailed for their beliefs, and we want to encourage you to let the responsible authorities know that they are outside of their jurisdiction when they try to regulate peoples faith.
After leaving Belarus
Darrow Miller, the conference speaker, sent out a newsletter on what
happened on the day of the arrest. You can read it HERE