Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

“Shock”in United States Congress as Belarus Authorities Bulldoze New Church

Armed & Camouflaged Lukashenka Agents
Mount Latest Attack Against Religion

 

Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) is “shocked, but not surprised” that Alexander Lukashenka’s government demolished a newly constructed church building on August 1st while parishioners were preparing for its solemn consecration.

Belarusian agents, camouflaged and armed with automatic weapons, reportedly surrounded the western village of Pahranichny. They cleared the way for a bus-load of demolition crews, cranes and bulldozers in an orchestrated effort to destroy the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church building, just hours before its parishioners planned to dedicate the new building.

“This outrageous crime further demonstrates how ruthless, corrupt and immoral Lukashenka’s rule has become,” Smith said. “Is nothing sacred in Belarus today, that the regime has to stoop so low as to level a parish church? Since Lukashenka has led Belarus to become a pariah state in the heart of Europe, nothing he does surprises me any more,” Smith observed.

Government authorities have consistently refused state registration for the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, describing the church, with about 70 parishes throughout Belarus, as a “non-existent religious group.”

The Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is separate from the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. Lukashenka has pursued a policy of favoring the Russian Orthodox Church, while harassing other religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants and Hindus. Tensions in Pahranichny between the Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox parish and the Belarusian Authocephalous Orthodox parish have also been high.

“I condemn Mr. Lukashenka and the Belarusian Government for the wanton destruction of this house of worship. Regardless of ecclesiastical differences between the two village parishes, government intervention is uncalled for and demolishing a church building is unacceptable,” Mr. Smith declared. “This further demonstrates the true nature of the Lukashenka regime and strengthens my resolve to pass the Belarus Democracy Act.”

The Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, H.R. 5056, would promote democratic development, human rights, and rule of law in Belarus. The bipartisan measure authorizes an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities, encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, and would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, including denying his high-ranking officials entry into the United States.

Authorities on Tuesday, July 23rd ordered the building destroyed, citing its “illegal” construction. According to news reports, plans filed by the church did not include designs for a basement. Demolition workers on July 26 tried to wreck the building with bulldozers.

They encountered parishioners and other church supporters surrounding the building, some chained to its pillars, preventing authorities from destroying the church. No injuries were reported, but journalist and human rights activist Valery Shchukin was jailed for 15 days for attempting to write about the attack for the Narodna Volya newspaper. Six other individuals were fined.

The bulldozing is the most recent occurrence illustrating a deterioration of religious freedom and human rights in Belarus. Earlier this year, the Belarusian parliament considered a highly restrictive law on religion, deciding to postpone a vote until the autumn session. The government has furthermore escalated its harassment of non-Russian Orthodox religious communities.

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CO-CHAIRMAN COHEN APPOINTED AS OSCE PARLIAMENTARY AS...

Jul 21, 2022

WASHINGTON—Margareta Cederfelt, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), has appointed Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) as the first-ever OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners. “I welcome the chance to serve as the voice of political prisoners across the OSCE region,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Every day, we witness more political arrests of […]

screen-reader-text
Articles

Chairman Cardin, OSCE participating States Commit to...

Feb 15, 2022

By Ryn Hintz, Paulina Kanburiyan, and Worth Talley, Max Kampelman Fellows, and Shannon Simrell, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE On February 7 – 8, 2022, the OSCE’s Polish Chair-in-Office organized a high-level conference in Warsaw on Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region with the support of OSCE’s Office […]

screen-reader-text
Logo_tile_368x331
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Commemorates 45 Years of Advanci...

Jun 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—To commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, on June 3, Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and commission leaders Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “The Helsinki Commission has played a vital role in elevating […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Cardin, Hudson Pledge Support to Ukraine in Bilatera...

May 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—In response to increased Russian aggression against Ukraine, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) initiated an exceptional bilateral meeting with members of the Ukrainian Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) on April 30.  Chairman Cardin, who serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Assembly, […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki Commission Logo 1500x770
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: April 2021

Apr 30, 2021

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wicker, Shaheen Reintroduce Bill to Hold Russia Acco...

Apr 22, 2021

WASHINGTON—Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH) today reintroduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (S.1310). It is a companion bill to H.R. 496, introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), which unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. “The Kremlin’s current repression in Ukraine mirrors an […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commissioners Reintroduce Ukraine Religious...

Jan 29, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Commissioner Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) yesterday reintroduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (H.R. 496) in the House of Representatives. The House unanimously passed the original legislation, which targets Russia’s religious freedom violations in Ukraine, on November 18, 2020. “The Kremlin and its proxies […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki Commission Logo 1500x770
Publications

Helsinki Commission Digital Digest: January 2021

Jan 29, 2021

screen-reader-text