Monday, February 25, 2008

Belarus Tightens the Screws on Foreign Religious Workers

Belarus has consolidated its tight regulations on foreign religious workers...The changes – which shadow elements of the restrictive 2002 Religion Law – come as Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants prepare to submit over 50,000 signatures petitioning for changes to that Law to the state authorities.

The country's top religious affairs official now has sole discretion in deciding whether religious work by foreign citizens is necessary, according to a new Council of Ministers decree. The Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, currently Leonid Gulyako, also has the right not to give reasons for refusing a foreign religious worker's visit. The Plenipotentiary can also shorten the visit "if the period of time required for realisation of the aims for which the foreign citizen is invited does not correspond to that requested."

In line with the Religion Law, the 30 January 2008 decree states that only registered religious associations have the right to invite foreign religious workers. These consist of ten or more communities, at least one of which must have functioned in Belarus for 20 years.

The new decree's application procedure for inviting foreign religious workers is much more detailed than its 1999 predecessor, amended in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2006. If invited to teach religion, for example, a foreign citizen's work experience and the timetable and syllabus of the relevant religious educational institution must be submitted.

Foreign citizens must also now attest knowledge of Belarus' state languages (Belarusian and Russian) in order to perform religious work...

(Source: Forum 18 News Service)