Belarus Christians urge help for jailed Catholic mother of five

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- Christians in Belarus have expressed shock at the jailing on contested charges of a Catholic mother with five children, who claimed religious motivation for her actions. A Christian group called her a political prisoner.

Volha Zalatar was imprisoned Dec. 3 for participating in unauthorized tea parties and an internet chat site from her home in Minsk.

"I don't know the basis for the charges against her, or which evidence was used to substantiate them," said Father Yuri Sanko, spokesman for the Belarusian bishops' conference. "Nor do I know whether our church had anyone present at the trial. A number of priests wrote letters urging an end to her prosecution, but these were ignored."

Meanwhile, Belarus' Christian Vision organization said the 39-year-old sociologist, a practicing Catholic, had been refused a prayer book and pastoral visit by a priest, adding that her lawyer had certified she was beaten, kicked and strangled to force her to divulge phone and internet passwords.

"Volha Zalatar has been sentenced to four years of general-regime prison despite a lack of incriminating evidence, the absurd nature of the charges and being a mother of five children -- itself a significant circumstance which should have been taken into account," the organization said in a Dec. 4 statement.