MINSK -- Belarus's State Border Guard Committee says the barring of the leader of Belarusian Catholics, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, from entering the country is due to the fact that his passport had been annulled.
The Belarusian Catholic Church said in a statement on September 14 that it had received an official answer from the ministry last week after Kondrusiewicz requested an explain as to why he could not come back into the country.
"We inform you that you have not been allowed to cross the state border due to a decision by interior affairs organs that finds invalid the passport for the Republic of Belarus...that you hold. To get information on reasons why your passport was found invalid, you have the right to turn to the Interior Ministry," the statement said, citing an official letter signed by the chief of the State Border Guard Committee, Anatol Lapo.
The committee's spokesman Anton Bychkouski confirmed to RFE/RL that Kondrusiewicz’s passport had been added to the list of invalid documents, but did not give any other details.
On August 31, Belarusian border guards blocked the 74-year-old archbishop of Minsk and Mahilyou, who is a Belarusian citizen, from entering via neighboring Poland.
The president of the Belarusian bishops’ conference has been a vocal critic of the brutal crackdown on protesters in the wake of the country’s contested August 9 vote.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, was declared the winner of the election, which was widely viewed as rigged. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past several weeks to protest the results and demand he step down despite a crackdown that has left hundreds injured and at least six dead.
In an address read at Catholic churches on August 30, Kondrusiewicz wrote that the country faced an “unprecedented socio-political crisis” and the prospect of civil war.
Days before that, Kondrusiewicz condemned security forces after they blocked the entrance to the Church of Saints Symon and Alena in Minsk, a structure also known as the Red Church.
He has also condemned police beatings and detentions of protesters.
According to official numbers, about 6 percent of Belarus’s 9.5 million people are Roman Catholic, while 53 percent belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church. The remainder of the population identifies as atheist, uncertain, or belonging to minority religions.