The pastor of the Full Gospel Church in the Belarusian capital Minsk, Veniamin Brukh, has escaped on a technicality from being punished under the administrative code for speaking up in public as a leader of a religious freedom group. The interdenominational group—the Association for Religious Freedom in Belarus—does not have official registration and the authorities argue that it is therefore an offence to speak in its name, although the organization exists. Alla Ryabitseva, head of the Department for Religious and Ethnic Affairs at Minsk City Council, told Keston News Service from Minsk on January 18 that she `did not know' what would happen if anyone spoke again in the name of the Association for Religious Freedom in Belarus.

Ryabitseva claimed never to have heard of the association. Asked why it needed to have registration to be able to exist and function, she declined to answer such `very big theoretical questions'. `Our department deals only with concrete issues.' She declined to comment on how actions against Pastor Brukh as a leader of the association squared with Belarus' commitment to freedom of association under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights agreements to which Belarus is a party.

Brukh was charged on January 12 under Article 167, point 10, of the administrative code for `speaking on behalf of a non-existent social organization', which the article forbids. In an interview with the newspaper Belorusskaya Gazeta on November 6, 2000 he had been referred to as `the deputy coordinator of the working group of the Association for Religious Freedom in Belarus', and in a letter of November 2, 2000 to the Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs and Belarusian ...

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