Date: Monday 17 December 2007
Subj: Belarus: Christian youth leader beaten.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
BELARUS: CHRISTIAN YOUTH LEADER BEATEN
Malady Front (Youth Front <http://www.mfront.net/> (Belarussian)), is a Belarussian youth movement with Christian roots which advocates for freedom, democracy and Christian values in Belarus. It has had its application for registration denied six times, most recently in June this year despite meeting all the requirements. Their lack of registration gives the authorities grounds to repress and persecute the group, to ban their meetings and criminalise their activities. (Link 1)
In May 2006, Zmitser Dashkevich, the group's leader and an evangelical Christian, returned from a visit to the USA only to be arrested on charges of "hooliganism" for allegedly writing political graffiti, a charged that could not be proved. On 1 November 2006 Dashkevich was sentenced to 18 months in prison for "organising and participating in an activity of an unregistered non-governmental organisation". (Link 2: Amnesty International UK and Christian Solidarity Worldwide USA)
Dashkevich is not the first Malady Front leader to be punished by the Lukashenka regime. His predecessor, Paval Seviarynets <http://sieviarynets.net/english/index.htm> who led the group from 1999-2004 and is also a professing Christian was sentenced in 2005 to two years' hard labour for organising a protest against the official (and clearly fraudulent) results of the referendum and parliamentary elections in October 2004.
In September 2007 Zmitser Fedaruk courageously took on the leadership of the Malady Front. Like his predecessors, Zmitser Fedaruk is a committed Christian. Though only 19-years-old he has first-hand experience of repression, including religious persecution and incarceration. He spent five days in a KGB prison earlier this year for meeting with other Malady Front members in a private apartment. He is a member of a Minsk-based Pentecostal church whose pastor has been imprisoned and its premises confiscated.
Fedaruk recently told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that his faith in God gives him both his conviction -- that freedom to do good is man's God-given right -- and the courage to fight for it. He also told RFE/RL that he seeks to serve "as a spiritual and moral guide to the group, whose members regularly risk intimidation, beatings, and arrest".
RFE/RL interviewed Zmitser Fedaruk on 6 December while he was in Washington on a visit sponsored by the US Helsinki Commission. The interview entitled "Belarus: 19-Year-Old Activist Fights For God and Country" was published on 7 December. Fedaruk returned to Belarus on 9 December and on 12 December he participated in a peaceful demonstration in support of Belarussian independence ahead of the visit of Russia's President Putin.
(Rumours have been rife that Belarus-Russia unification may be on the agenda once again. Lukashenka once sought this as a means of advancing his power; however, the rise and rise of the cult and power of Putin have laid waste to that fantasy. Now the rumours are that Putin may be seeking it to advance his own power, as a new state would require a new constitution. Stratfor Strategic Forecasting Inc.'s analysis of 13 December, "Geopolitical Diary: Reality Dawns in Belarus", discounts this believing that Putin is a dictator with such widespread support that he will not be limited by constitutional constraints. Stratfor believes Putin is more likely to want Belarus for geo-strategic purposes so he can move his Red Army right up to the borders of NATO-land, transforming Belarus from "buffer" to "launching pad".)
Not only did Belarussian police predictably break up the 12 December protest and beat the protestors, but they targeted Zmitser Fedaruk for special punishment. The security police isolated Fedaruk, beat him to the ground and stamped on him. His head hit the concrete hard, rendering him unconscious. Demonstrators phoned for an ambulance and Fedaruk was rushed to hospital where he was assessed to have a brain concussion of medium severity, as well as bruising. (Link 3)RFE/RL immediately republished the 7 December interview with an Editor's note. (Link 4)
On 13 December Fedaruk spoke by telephone from his hospital bed to RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "I think my beating was linked to my trip to America. There were many indications of that. I was deliberately pushed behind the OMON [special police] cordon and there, separated from the demonstrators, knocked down and beaten. And then they threw me back, saying something like, 'Take your man back, he made a nice trip to America.'" (Link 5)
Zmitser Fedaruk has a compelling passion for liberty and justice and the glory of God. But even more than that, he has the very thing President Lukashenka fears even more than conviction: the courage to act on it.
"I believe in God. And I fear only God," Fedaruk told RFE/RL. "When I joined Malady Front I couldn't understand how people could stand up and be strong, and not be afraid. Later, when I received this faith I understood that only God and faith can help you be brave. In fact, the young people who come to Malady Front are also like this -- they are the new generation who can get to this new land."
There can be little doubt that Lukashenka will be very keen to crush that courage before it can grow or spread. However, if Fedaruk is right and this courage is from the Spirit of God, then Lukashenka has no idea what he is up against.