Anti-Lukashenko Protest: Georgian Baptist Bishop Arrested in Minsk

Anti-Lukashenko Protest: Georgian Baptist Bishop Arrested in Minsk

Klaus Rösler - March 24, 2006

K i e v / M i n s k – The Bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church in the Caucasian republic of Georgia, Malkhaz Songulashvili (Tbilisi), qualifies as an “international terrorist” in Belarus. After taking part in protests against the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko (Minsk), he was barred from re-entering the country for the next five years. Songulashvili reported this to the European Baptist Press Service (EBPS) in Kiev. On election day March 19, Songulashvili and two Georgian accomplices, the Orthodox archpriest Basil Kobakhidze and a journalist, were arrested in Minsk and subjected to interrogations by the secret police for two days. All three were deported to Ukraine on 21 March.

Intending to support the anti-Lukashenko opposition, the Georgians had flown to Kiev, Ukraine on 17 March and continued on to Minsk by train. They and 15.000 others demonstrated there for fair and free elections. Songulashvili reports that security officers intervened when the three Georgians unrolled and waved a Georgian flag. The two clergymen were easily recognisable because of their distinct garb. Prior to his arrest, Songulashvili reports that he was able to speak with many believers in the crowd. He encouraged them not to give up their protest. The Bishop though was disheartened that the demonstrators had apparently been abandoned by the churches of Belarus. He noticed no other clergymen in the crowd. Yet Songulashvili regards it as the responsibility of every Christian and church to strive for peace, freedom and human rights.

Songulashvili added that he and his accomplacis were, in contrast to Belarus demonstrators, not beaten by security officers. But they were subjected to strong mental duress by the eight officers who interrogated them. Being that they could not be accused of any illegal acts, they were in the end simply deported. A stamp denying them future entry was placed in their passports.

Lukashenko was declared winner of the election with 82,6% of the votes. But according to election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the election did not follow the accepted international requirements.

After the Georgians’ arrest became known, the Georgian foreign ministry placed an official protest and demanded immediate release. Merab Gaprindashvili (Tbilisi), General Secretary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia, appealed to Baptists throughout the world to pray for the arrested.

The President of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Belarus has strongly disapproved of Songulashvili’s participation in an anti-government demonstration. “The actions of our brethren from Georgia damaged us in the eyes of the authorities and our people,” stated President Nikolay Sinkovets (Minsk) in conversation with EBPS. One appreciates in general the attitude of the Georgian Baptists: Belarussian events matter to them. Yet in view of the political conditions in the country, it cannot be recommended that Belarussian Baptists protest alongside government opponents. Yet this should not be interpreted to mean that Baptists are not interested in the general politicial situation. But every individual Baptist has his/her own opinion on political matters. Faith cannot be used to justify political acts and participation in demonstrations. Those who wish objective information should ask those living in the country and not rely on voices from elsewhere.

Belarus has 315 Baptist congregations with 14.000 members; Georgia, 72 congregations and 5.100 members.