A registered Pentecostal congregation was raided and their pastor was arrested by police during their Pentecostal service on Sunday in Belarus.
Pastor Antoni Bokun of John the Baptist Pentecostal Church was detained overnight at Minsk’s Central District Police Station following a police raid of the service attended by a hundred people, according to human rights group Forum 18.
Bokun was heavily fined – about 20 times the minimum monthly wage – on Monday for holding an “unsanctioned mass meeting” even though officials had refuse to grant the church permission to rent a house of worship.
One of the attendees, local lawyer Sergei Lukanin, reports that Bokun had told the court that he broke the law only because it went against the law of God.
Belarusian law requires that all religious events outside designated places of worship, including homes, take place only after informing and gaining permission from local authorities. The country’s laws, critics say, make it nearly impossible for Protestant fellowships to gain registration.
On Sunday, two men in civilian clothes – thought to be KGB secret police – were present at the beginning of the service, recalled church member Jaroslaw Lukasik. Neither the two men nor eight additional men that arrived during a guest preacher’s sermon identified themselves.
Some of the unidentified men reportedly filmed while the guest pastor spoke and ordered attendees after the service to go to a nearby yard, where a truck of riot police later arrived. By the time the truck came, Bokun and Lukanin had already been taken to the police station.
The former USSR country has long been known for its religious freedom violations and crackdown on protestant churches. Last year, a 1,000-membered charismatic church gained international attention when its members and religious freedom activists across the nation staged a hunger strike inside the church to regain their church’s land and building after the government forced the sale of the property.
Despite a ruling by the highest economic court in Belarus last November to cancel all previous court decisions against the church and to re-examine the case, no significant progress or action has taken place since the ruling.
Belarus is a republic by name but is in fact a dictatorship, according to the CIA World Factbook. And the country – although not included on the U.S. government’s list of the world’s worst religious freedom violators – is on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Watch List this year for close monitoring.
This is the first time John the Baptist Pentecostal Church has been raided.