Belarus treats Jehovah's Witnesses better than does Russia


Why Belarus is ready to grant asylum to "improper believers"

Novaya Gazeta, 22 October 2021


While Russian authorities are continuing to shock the world with inexplicable cruelty toward Jehovah's Witnesses, the Department on Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus has begun considering the question of granting asylum to the 44-year-old Oleg Lonshakov. He fled to the "fraternal republic" in July of last year from the village of Tavrichanka of Primorie territory, where he was a defendant in another criminal case based on article 282 of the Criminal Code of the R.F. against Jehovah's Witnesses, the most persecuted and repressed confession in modern Russia.


Lonshakov settled in Brest and received a residency permit in Belarus. Unexpectedly in late September he was arrested by Belarusian police at the request of the Russian Federation, which had put the believer on the international wanted list. At first Lonshakov was placed in a temporary holding cell, and then, on 1 October, the deputy prosecutor of Brest, Pashkevich, put him in SIZO No. 7 for a period until 8 November. However, by 14 October the believer had been released while the office of the prosecutor general of Belarus officially refused Russia's request to extradite him.


In the Union State, the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses is not restricted in any way and their organizations and publications are not considered to be extremist.


Oleg Lonshakov's story is the second case of its kind. Last year, also on Russia's request, Belarusian authorities arrested a Jehovah's Witness, a refuge from Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district, Nikolai Makhalechev. He spent more than a month in SIZO No. 2 in Vitebsk oblast, but he also was set free.


The intensity of the repressions against Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia has continued to grow in recent months. The cold numbers of the statistics (1591 searches, 559 indictments, 69 imprisoned, thousands of forced emigrants) do not convey the full scale of the human tragedy and sufferings of peaceful believers, many of whom were repressed back in the U.S.S.R. and subsequently rehabilitated and recognized as victims of the crimes of the government. In practically all of the cases against Jehovah's Witnesses there are no victims and the totality of their guilt consists of reading the Bible or singing religious songs with their fellow believers. Often during searches and arrests of believers, who do not put up any resistance, tortures are applied. Novaya Gazeta has reported in detail the stories of such tortures in Surgut. Quite recently believers were subjected to tortures in Irkutsk.


Whereas manifestations of political opposition in Belarus nowadays are punished more harshly than in the Russian Federation, in the sphere of religion and worldviews, Lukashenko's punitive machine pays little attention. On the contrary, Jehovah's Witnesses in some ways please the Belarusian regime. They distinguish themselves from the other Christian confessions by their extreme political inaction and pacifism (they do not serve in the army, do not take up arms, do not participate in elections, do not support political parties, and are formally loyal to any government). The Russian regime demands from the confessions it recognizes an "active patriotic position," including campaigning in elections for the "only correct" candidate or party, exposition from the Christian pulpit or Muslim lectern of the correctness of all government decision, and supporting ideologically the security forces. As a result, what in Belarus is considered desirable for the regime, in Russia becomes "extremism." And in this sense the Russian regime seems much less religiously neutral than does the Lukashenko regime. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 October 2021)

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