Christian Church Leader Imprisoned for Organizing Bible Study

Country: Belarus

Date of incident: March 30, 2006

Sergei Shavtsov was arrested and jailed for 10 days for organizing a meeting on Christian history and Bible issues without an official permit.

A religious freedom lawyer and a human rights activist Sergei Shavtsov has been detained and sentenced to 10 days’ imprisonment for organizing an “illegal religious activity” in Minsk in Belarus, Christian Today reports. He has long been involved in religious freedom work and also helped compile the August 2002 "White Book" that documented violations of international law on religious freedom in Belarus. He acts as a legal consultant to several national Protestant Churches. From Wednesday 22 to Friday March 24, 2006, Mr. Shavtsov organized a seminar of Christian business leaders in a private café in Minsk after official permission was denied. On the last day of the conference he was detained after police raided the seminar, Forum 18 News Service reports, and he was taken almost immediately from the police station to the administrative court where he was given a 20-minute summary trial.

Within 20 minutes he was found guilty and offered the choice of paying a fine of 4,650,000 Belarusian roubles (1,798 Euros) or serving 10 days in prison. On choosing prison, he was immediately sent to the prison on Okrestina street where many opposing political demonstrators were being held. According to Forum 18 News Service, he was released on April 3. 

On March 17, Vitali Misevets, head of the Frunze district Ideology Department, refused official permission to hold the seminar at the college and claimed to Forum 18 that, "It's not absurd to deny permission for such a meeting. How do we know what 35 people were going to be discussing?" He said the organizers failed to meet all the requirements of the law, including providing written permission from the Internal Affairs Department and the Emergency Situations Department.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the conviction of Mr. Shavtsov that came into effect in Belarus in October 2002 was later amended in November 2005. This sentence severely restricts the extent to which religious activities are allowed in the country. We thank Felix Corley and Forum 18 News Service for reporting:
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