Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Belarusian constitution provides for religious freedom, but government restricts this right in practice, says US State Department says in report

The Belarusian constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the government restricted this right in practice, says the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in its International Religious Freedom Report covering 2006 and 2007.

The report, published ion September 14, notes deterioration in respect for religious freedom during this period.

“The Government continued to restrict religious freedom in accordance with the provisions of a 2002 law on religion and a 2003 concordat with the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC), a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the only officially recognized Orthodox denomination,” the Bureau says. “Numerous anti-Semitic acts and attacks on religious monuments, buildings, and cemeteries occurred with little discernable response from the Government.”

“Authorities kept many religious communities waiting as long as several years for decisions about property registration or restitution,” the report says. “Authorities also harassed and fined members of certain religious groups, especially those that the authorities appeared to regard as bearers of foreign cultural influence or as having a political agenda. Foreign missionaries, clergy, and humanitarian workers affiliated with churches faced many government-imposed obstacles, including deportation and visa refusal or cancellation.”

“The Government continued to use textbooks that promoted religious intolerance, especially toward ‘nontraditional’ faiths,” the report says. “Leaders of Protestant communities criticized language in the textbook Basics of Home and Personal Security as discriminatory against Protestants, particularly the chapter entitled ‘Beware of Sects.’ The chapter includes a paragraph informing students of such ‘sects’ as Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of Maria, White Brotherhood, and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Ministry of Education continued to use the textbook Man, Society, and State, which labels Protestants and Hare Krishnas as ‘sects,’ even after protests by religious groups. The authorities promised to change the language in the next edition of the books; neither book was republished by the end of the period covered by this report.”

“Unlike in previous reporting periods, state-owned periodicals did not attack Jewish religious groups; however, the sale and distribution of anti-Semitic literature through state press distributors, government agencies, and stores affiliated with the BOC continued,” the report says. “During the reporting period, anti-Semitic and Russian ultranationalist newspapers and literature, DVDs, and videocassettes continued to be sold at Pravoslavnaya Kniga [Orthodox Book], which sells Orthodox literature and religious paraphernalia.”

“There were some positive developments in respect for religious freedom during the reporting period,” the Bureau notes. In particular, authorities granted the St. John the Baptist Catholic Community permission to build a church in Minsk and gave the community a plot of land for the building. Construction began on June 15, 2007. This was the first Catholic church to be built in Minsk since the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. //BelaPAN


No comments: