BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST/MINSK (BosNewsLife)– Two Danish men are being deported from Belarus on charges of expressing “ideas of a religious nature”, after dozens of foreign Christians were already expelled from the former Soviet republic.
The troubles apparently began February 6 when Rolf Bergen and Erling Laursen attended a prayer service at the evangelical Living Faith Church in the city of Gomel. “We were praying reading and speaking from the Bible, greeting the people, and praying together,” one of the two, Laursen, said in published remarks seen by BosNewsLife Sunday, February 15.
Pastor Dmitry Podlobko reportedly saw a young man he had never seen before filming the worship service with his mobile phone. The next day, Laursen and Bergen were arrested by local officials while attending another service at the church, said religious rights group Forum 18, which closely monitored the case.
Police apparently showed the men the video footage as evidence of their “illegal activity” and a deportation order was drawn up, barring the men from the country for one year. Bergen left Belarus on February 11 and, Laursen was scheduled to leave on February 19.
In a statement released by Forum 18, Pastor Podlobko said that “it’s not news to us that the security organs are watching. They visit and watch us secretly.” The ‘KGB’ secret police closely monitors all religiouscommunities, including active Christian churches, according to local Christians and advocacy groups. “The deportation brings to 31 the number of foreign citizens barred from Belarus in recent years for their religious activity,” Forum 18 said.
“The most recent people expelled were four Catholic priests and three nuns, banned at the end of 2008.”
The expulsion of the Danish men comes on the heels of growing pressure on non ‘authorized’ churches in the country. Last month, a local court threw out an appeal against state plans to take over the building of Minsk-based New Life Church, one of the country’s largest evangelical congregations.
Controlling religious groups is seen as part of the autocratic style of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been described by critics as “Europe’s last dictator.” He was declared to have won a third term as president at elections in March 2006 following a vote which Western observers described as “fundamentally flawed.”
Belarus officials have strongly denied human rights abuses in the country.