In early May, Pastor Artur Pawlowski of the Street Church in Alberta, Canada was arrested and charged with organising an “illegal in-person gathering” and “requesting, inciting or inviting others” to join the gathering.
His crime? Holding a church service in defiance of Canada’s lockdown, and he may be about to spend four years in prison as a result of doing so.
A video of the pastor had previously gone viral when police officers raided a Passover celebration at his Alberta church and Pastor Pawlowski scolded the officers until they left. His reasons for doing so were that he has seen something similar before in terms of persecution of Christians.
“I grew up in Poland under communism, socialism, under the boots of the Soviets in a country where you had absolutely no freedoms. No freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, no freedom of association, no freedom of the press,” Pawlowski said.
“What I see right now, I see everything escalating and moving to the new level. They’re acting just like the Communists were acting when I was growing up when the pastors and the priests were arrested, and some were murdered. Many were tortured.
“For disagreeing with government, for just simply sharing your heart about something that you have seen or heard, you could be tortured, arrested, beaten, sentenced to years in jail time — just because you had a different opinion than the State government.”
Pawlowski recalled how “before they would sentence you, you would be tortured, beaten by the police.” Lawlessness reigned and the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic became a mere piece of paper.
“There was nothing that resembled justice and rule of law at all. It was 50,000 communists ruling, enslaving 36 million Polish people at that time. So what I see right now is a similar approach. One law at a time, one infringement on our rights at a time.”
A judge found Pawlowski guilty of contempt in June and he potentially faces four years in jail for allegedly organising an illegal in-person gathering, inciting or inviting others to attend an illegal gathering, as well as promoting and attending the gathering.
Republican Missouri Senator Josh Hawleyhas has condemned the persecution.
“I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship,” the Missouri Republican wrote.
“Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada. Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Hawley described how a “heartbreaking video” showed Pastor Stephens children “sobbing as they held their father’s hand through the barred window of a police car.”
“Pastor Stephens’ alleged violation was holding an outdoor worship service in a park, which was apparently discovered by a police helicopter flying overhead,” the senator said.