April 6.

House of Hope has to appear before the Court again.

The 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.

April 3.

Religious Freedom lawyer released from prison

The lawyer Sergey Shavtsov that was arrested for
organizing an unregistered religious meeting in Minsk on March 24th, was released from prison today. We spoke to him short after the release, and he was relieved to be out, but did not want to tell over phone how he had been treated. But he expressed eagerness to get back to his work. It was obvious that the prison sentence had not scared him off!

April 1.

Mr. Shavtsov soon to be released from prison
Edit april 3 - deleted.

March 31

House of Hope wins court case.

On 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 of Hope.
The first trial was set to March 22nd, but because of the massive number arrests after the election, the trial was postponed to the 24th of March. Also this court was dismissed because the designated judge was called to serve in another trial, and our trial was set for the 27th of March, with a new judge.
The previous judge had prior to the trial expressed that he was under pressure from the authorities to rule in disfavour of House of Hope. After a preliminary meeting with the new judge, she did not seem to be as biased as the previous judge. After a short hearing on the 27th, the judge ruled in favour of House of Hope. This means that the Minsk Executive Committee petition for close-down was rejected, and we are now waiting for the Committee’s response; either to appeal the decision to a higher court, or to accept the court ruling and complete the process of re-registration of House of Hope. This could still take some time, and we urge people to send appeal letters to the authorities.

March 25.

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...


March 24.

Lawyer arrested for organising religious meeting

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.

Update :

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