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Persecution of the religious communities in Belarus through accusations of extremism

Belarusian inter-Christian association, created during peaceful protests of 2020.
Information about the «Christian Vision».
Founding statement of the «Christian Vision» Working Group.
The mission of the «Christian Vision».

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Following the2020 events, the Belarusian regime started to purge media space, identifying independent media, websites, telegram channels, social networks, as well as symbols associated with peaceful protest, as “extremist materials.” This led to administrative prosecution under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences, including individuals who share information from such information sources, or information that contains logos of these information sources.

Websites, channels and social media accounts linked to Belarusian religious figures and communities are systematically recognised as extremist materials. This monitoring contains such cases as of 2 November 2023.

1. Catholic priest Viachaslau Barok

2. Union of Poles in Belarus

3. Orthodox Archbishop of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk Artemy (Kishchanka)

4. “Tsarkva”, a Belarusian Greek Catholic newspaper

5. Full Gospel Church “New Life”

6. Ecumenical group «Christian Vision»

7. Catholic channel «Rerum Novarum»

7. Belarusian Orthodox parish in Vilnius (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

Catholic priest Viachaslau Barok

Thus, the first religious “extremist” was Viachaslau Barok, a Roman Catholic priest, who formerly served as rector of the Church in honour of St. Josaphat Kuntsevich located in the town of Rasony (Viciebsk region). On 12 November 2020, the priest was summoned to the district office of the Investigative Committee in Rasony, allegedly “as a witness.” However, it subsequently emerged that an investigation had been launched into his blogs and social networks to detect extremist content. In the quest of such signs, Rev. Barok’s records were sent for linguistic examination.

Along with an extremism check, an administrative process was launched against the priest in December 2020, and a protocol was drawn up. Allegedly, an anti-fascist poster by artist Vladimir Tsesler, displayed by Rev. Barok on his Instagram, was claimed as a public demonstration and propaganda of Nazi symbols. On 3 December 3 2020, a trial took place under Art. 17.10 of the Code of Administrative Offences “Propaganda and (or) public demonstration, production and (or) distribution of Nazi symbols and paraphernalia.” The priest was a subject to an administrative penalty and faced a 10-day administrative arrest, which Rev. Barok served in Vitebsk.

In the beginning of January, this examination against the priest’s social networks was suspended due to “not receiving the results of the examination” (under part 1.2 of article 173(3) of the Criminal Procedural Code). On 29 January 2021, Rev. Barok learnt from the Investigative Committee that nine new examinations had been initiated, based on the videos. According to the results of the latter examinations, which Rev. Barok was familiarised with on 22 April 2021, there were no indications of extremism in the materials reviewed.

On 1 July 2021 the clergyman was summoned by the Rasony District Department of Internal Affairs as a person against whom an administrative process is conducted under Art. 24.23 of the Code of Administrative Offences. Alongside with familiarising with the administrative prosecution documents, Rev. Barok was informed by the prosecutor S.S. Aleshka about a formal warning signed on 25 June 2021 by the First Deputy Prosecutor of the Viciebsk Region D.A. Shapavalau, connected with extremist materials allegedly posted on the priest’s social media. This material was found to contradict the results of previous examinations.

On 5 November 5 2022, the General Prosecutor’s Office reported that, as per Rasony District Prosecutor’s Office statement, a video titled “Prayer for Belarus with Viachaslau Barok. 17.07.2021” uploaded on the channel “Real Belarus!” on the YouTube video hosting site, has been classified as extremist materials.

The Rasony District Court also recognized the video “Priest Barok – about Lukashenko and Satan, the Pope and repentance, freedom and death” as extremist material on 14 October 2022.

On 17 February 2023, the Rasony District Court recognized another video from the channel “Priest Barok” as extremist. The video was titled “Politician Dmitry Shchigelsky and priest Barok. Armed resistance is the plan of politicians. And what is of God?”

Union of Poles in Belarus

On 30 December 2021 the Leninsky District Court of Hrodna made a decision to include the website of the Union of Poles of Belarus znadniemna.pl to the list of extremist materials. This site has a large section dedicated to religious affairs in Belarus, which includes details about religious figures and activists that have been persecuted by the Lukashenko regime. On May 20, 2022, the same court recognized another website identifier – nadniemnemgrodno.pl. – as extremist materials.

Orthodox Archbishop of Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk Artemy (Kishchanka)

The sermon given by Orthodox Archbishop Artemy (Kishchanka) was also recognised as extremist material. On 12 October 2022 a local citizen of Navapolack was sentenced to days of arrest for sharing a sermon of Archbishop Artemy, as per Navapolack court ruling. The video entitled “Archbishop Artemy spoke out about the situation in Belarus” originally published at the YouTube channel of the Holy Intercession Cathedral in Grodno, was republished on the TUT.BY channel and shared by the mentioned individual. The fact that the video was accompanied with a logo of a media previously recognised as extremist materials (TUT.BY) was enough reason to be held accountable for administrative offences under Part 2 of Art. 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus.

“Tsarkva”, a Belarusian Greek Catholic newspaper

A Belarusian Greek Catholic newspaper “Tsarkva”, had its website and social media accounts on Facebook and Vkontakte recognised as extremist materials by the Leninsky District Court of Brest on 14 December 2022. Prior to this, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ihar Baranouski, and the Greek Catholic priest from Brest, Igor Kondratyev, both faced administrative arrest. The court gave Baranouski a 15-day sentence under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offences (“Distribution of extremist materials”) for a post that appeared on the the “Tsarkva” newspaper’s Facebook page in May 2021. The post included a video from Belsat (Belarusian Polish TV-channel sponsored by Polish government). At the same time, the products of the Belsat TV were recognised by Belarusian authorities as “extremist materials” only in July 2021.

Full Gospel Church “New Life”

On 11 August 2023, the New Life Church was notified that the Central District Court of Minsk was processing a civil case against them regarding the recognition of certain information products as extremist materials. The court hearing was scheduled for 23 August 2023.

On 14 August 2023, police detained Viachaslau Hancharenka, a pastor of the New Life Church, and Ilya Budai, a youth pastor. Hancharenka was trialed under Article 24.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus (“disobedience to a lawful order or demand of an official in the exercise of his official powers”). As a result he was given a 10-day administrative arrest. Ilya Budai was charged under Article 19.1 of the Code of Administrative Offenсes of the Republic of Belarus (petty hooliganism). He was accused of “using obscene language and waving his arms,» and was placed under administrative arrest for 5 days. Accordingly, the pastors could not attend the trial on 23 August.

On 23 August 2023, a closed hearing took place in the Central District Court of Minsk. It became known from the case materials that the Minsk prosecutor’s office monitored the church’s YouTube channel of the church and discovered a video containing allegedly “destructive content”. The concerned video was entitled “Position of Christians of the New Life Church” (video is deleted, please refer to the transcript of this video). The prosecutor’s office stated that in the video “they groundlessly claim that in the Republic of Belarus there are persecutions for political beliefs, the issuance of unjust decisions for far-fetched reasons and false accusations for violating the legislation on mass events, persecution of representatives of civil society for showing dissent in the post-election period.” This, according to the supervisory body, discredits the government authorities. The link to the video was published also on the church’s Instagram page. The prosecutor’s office also assessed a post on the parish’s Instagram profile dated 17 August 2020, which contained photos of parishioners who stood in front of the church in a prayer chain on 16 August 2020. The latter post was accompanied by a message advocation for Christians standing against violence. The prosecutor’s office considered such a publication to undermine the authority of the current government.

The prosecutor’s office did not consider it necessary to conduct an examination for the presence of extremism, since the examples given allegedly prove this even without an examination.

The prosecutor’s office asked the court to recognise both the video and the community’s Instagram page as extremist materials, despite the fact that all the materials discussed in the prosecutor’s statement were deleted. Nevertheless, the Central District Court of Minsk, in a closed session on 23 August 2023 classified the church’s Instagram profile and the specified video on its YouTube channel as extremist materials.

On 25 August 2023, the Maladzečna district of the Minsk region recognised the New Life Church website as extremist. A few days later, on 28 August, the same court also recognised the Facebook page and Telegram channel belonging to the community as extremist materials. Finally, on 31 August 2023 the community’s VKontakte page, alongside with YouTube video titled “Pastor Viachaslau Hancharenka condemns violence and calls on the authorities to repent!” were also recognised as extremists materials by the same court.

Ecumenical group «Christian Vision»

On 16 August 2023, the Miory District Court pronounced the channel “Christian Vision: NO TO WAR!” extremist.  The channel regularly publishes an overview of religious freedom situation in Belarus, cases of persecution of Christians during the political crisis, the position of Belarusian believers and religious leaders in support of peace, justice, democracy and human rights.

On 7 September 2023, the Lida District Court once more, declared the telegram channel as extremist materials, alongside the channel’s old logo “a cross entwined with two cornflowers”. On the same day, the Akciabrski District Court of Viciebs pronounced the social media of the “Christian Vision” on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and VKontakte as extremist materials.

Catholic channel «Rerum Novarum»

On 7 September 2023, the Leninsky District Court of Minsk added in the list of extremist materials a Telegram-channel discussing Belarusian Roman Catholic Church, Belarusian Catholics and their social activities titled “For our and your freedom/Rerum Novarum”. This channel is currently operating under a new name, “Słuchać hadko! (former Rerum Novarum).”

Belarusian Orthodox parish in Vilnius (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Belarusian Orthodox parish (Ecumenical Patriarchate) was created in Vilnius (Lithuania) in April 2023. Its clergy are Very Rev. Georgy Roy and Rev. Alaksandr Kukhta. Then, the Telegram channel, Belarusian Orthodox Parish in Vilnius, was also launched.

On 20 October 2023, the court of the Baranavičy district and town of Baranavičy designated this Telegram channel as extremist materials.