Belarus Police Detain And Fine US Volunteers For Teaching English

Belarusian police detained and fined a group of 10 US religious workers for teaching English in the former Soviet republic, the Belapan news agency reported on Thursday.

The 10 all are retirees from the US state Missouri, who had travelled to the Belarusian city Mogilev as part of a humanitarian aid programme partially financed by their church, and partially from their own funds.

They had been teaching English for free to Mogilev citizens as workers for a Belarusian branch of Stefanus, an international social assistance organization.

The Emmanuil church, an evangelical Baptist group in Mogilev, had been the site of the classes, and a Belarusian partner with the Stefanus group.

The church among other aid activities ran a training programme called "English for Every One," aimed at giving a basic understanding of English to students.

Promotion of religion by foreigners is banned by Belarusian law. International evangelical Christian groups sometimes bypass the rule by setting up churches, and then asserting the church is run by Belarusians not foreigners.

Belarus' authoritarian government frowns on almost all forms of group training not specifically sanctioned by the state.

Mogilev police cited each American for teaching without a license, and obliged each to pay a fine equivalent to fourteen US dollars.

Law enforcers confiscated the Americans' passports, pending a deportation hearing, according to the report.

A camera team from a state-controlled investigative news programme was on the scene during the police raid.

The citation and fine amounted to state harassment of foreign religious volunteers, said Dmitriy Kontsevenko, a Stefanus spokesman.

The Americans only taught English in the form of a "Club of the Lovers of English", and did not promote their religion to students, Kontsevenko claimed.