Lukashenka has never been considered a pious man, but from time to time, he has publicly visited churches, taking officials and his youngest son Mikalai there. In 2014, he even noted that the church was the second most popular church in the country. After the head of state, of course.
However, once clerics began to denounce repression, it turned out that special status does not give proximity to God. Priests who dared to speak out against the main "patron saint" of the church in Belarus were subjected to repression.
We recall here some absurd cases.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the former head of the Catholic Church in Belarus, was one of the first to be affected. In August 2020, he visited the political prisoners in Minsk and urged the authorities to stop the violence. After his visit to Poland, he was not allowed back to Belarus for several months and was later removed from his position as head of the Belarusian church. Lukashenka said that the Archbishop behaved in an "anti-state way."
Baptism is an "unsanctioned mass event"
Repressions against priests, like against all Belarusians, were not limited to 2020. Sometimes situations reach the point of absurdity. For example, pastor Zmitser Padlobka of the Living Faith Church was fined 640 rubles under Article 24.23 of the Administrative Code for holding a water baptism ceremony in the open air. The police considered it an unauthorized mass event as there was no "special permission." It could have been a meme, but this really happened in Belarus.
Clergymen are also affected by "extremist" articles. For example, priest Yauhen Uchkuronis was fined 20 basic units for reposting "extremist" media materials.
Belarusians are not uncommon to be put in jail for a few days and kept under different pretexts. This is what happened to priest Andrei Vashchuk. He was detained by the Main Department for Combating Organized Crime on July 18 for his Facebook avatar with the Belarusian Christian flag and "protest" photos on his profile, including the Ukrainian flag. The clergyman stated in court that the WRW flag symbolizes Christianity for him. As a result of this trial, Vashchuk received a sentence of 15 days in jail. And on July 20, he was tried again under Article 19.11 of the Administrative Code for being a member of a telegram chat room, which the authorities considered extremist. He was punished for another 15 days and had his phone confiscated.
According to the human rights defenders, pro-government propagandists were not ashamed to launch an information attack on the cleric while he had no opportunity to respond. They even accused him of drug use.
The authorities also did not like Vashchuk because people were drawn to him, said priest Viachaslau Barok.
"Why did they get hold of Father Andrei? Because he preached Christ not only in the temple, he was able to go outside the walls, he was able to hear people everywhere, people came to him, and not only Catholics. He was very respected," notes Viachaslau Barok.
Barok left Belarus because of repression. In December 2020, he was punished with 10 days in jail for reposting artist Uladzimir Tsesler's work "Stop Lukashism!" Upon learning of the new administrative case, he left Belarus.
Orthodox priest Uladzislau Bahamolnikau was arrested for 14 days on September 1, 2022. He was on hunger strike in support of political prisoner Ihar Losik, prayed for the deceased Raman Bandarenka and spoke against the war in Ukraine. During his detention, GUBOPIK broke down the doors in Father's apartment.
After 2020, the authorities found criminals among clerics
Among the political prisoners is the Orthodox priest Siarhey Rezanovich, a figure in the "Autukhovich case." He was charged under three articles of the Criminal Code: participation in a criminal organization, attempted unconstitutional seizure of state power, and illegal actions about objects whose striking effect is based on the use of flammable substances committed by a group of persons.
Autukhovich stayed with Rezanovich several times in 2020. The clergyman said he had only heard declarations of Autukhovich's plans but did not know any details. He also noted that he had seen Autukhovich's ammunition and weapons but was afraid to discuss it with anyone.
Another political prisoner is Vital Chychmarou, pastor of the Light of Hope Baptist Church.
Before 2020, he also worked as an engineer at the Kazlou plant. There he led the primary organization of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers. Vital actively advocated for fair elections and good working conditions. This seems to be why he was detained on April 19, 2022. The authorities accuse him of organizing and preparing actions that grossly violate public order or actively participate in them (article 342 of the Criminal Code). He is now in pre-trial detention.
"Because of the pressure, clergymen are forced to leave the country and lose their jobs. The families of clergymen are also persecuted," Viasna human rights activists conclude.