By Joseph C. DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
MINSK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– A pastor in Belarus was fined for alleged unsanitary conditions at his church’s summer Bible school while another church in Minsk must exist without a legal bank account, BosNewsLife learned Tuesday, November 16.
Belarusian Pastor Nikolai Borichevsky of Grace of Jesus Pentecostal Church in the rural town of Krupki near Minsk said he was forced to pay a fine of 700,000 Belarusian Roubles (231 USD) for food served to children at its summer Bible school supposedly under unsanitary conditions.
When health inspector Aleksandr Khodorovich and an official from the Commission for the Affairs of Minors visited the school at lunchtime, he reportedly claimed the children were being fed “with food prepared in a domestic setting by persons who did not have access to work with food products.” Additionally, the official said, “the food was prepared from products which did not have appropriate documents …”
Khodorovich issued a violation against Borichevsky under Article 16.8 of the Code of Administrative Violations, and the fine was imposed the following day. Borichevsky denied wrong doing, but his appeal to Krupki District Court was rejected.
Last year, local police also raided a Bible school in the nearby town of Ukhvala, Christians said.
“Many of the children were frightened and stopped coming,” explained Borichevsky. He said a local head schoolteacher warned parents of children attending Bible school that they could be deprived of their custodial rights.
And for more than two months, New Life Pentecostal Church in Minsk, was forced to operate without a legal bank account after it was frozen when two large fines went unpaid.
“By law, all the contributions we receive have to be placed in our bank account by the following day,” added church lawyer Sergei Lukanin. “We can’t do this.”
Paying staff wages and pension contributions is difficult, and some charities the church supports will not accept gifts in cash, he said.
Despite the difficulties, “The church’s life and worship continues,” said Lukanin, “but administratively things are difficult.”
Christian and rights activists have linked the incidents to a government crackdown on independent groups, including Christian groups and evangelical churches.
President Alexander Lukashenko, referred to by the West as Europe’s last dictator, is believed to view independent groups as a threat to his power base. He was declared to have won a third term as president at elections in March 2006 following a vote which Western observers said was fundamentally flawed.
They reported widespread harassment of opposition supporters and overwhelming media bias. Official results indicated that Lukashenko had won over 80 percent of the vote. The European Union and United States condemned the election while than Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his Belarusian counterpart.
Next month, voters in Belarus will go to the polls to elect a president, but analysts doubt whether the elections will truly be free and fair. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest).