Belarusian church facing eviction after ten-year battle with authorities

December 5, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

A large Belarusian church has been told to vacate its building voluntarily or else be forcibly evicted following a ten-year battle with the authorities.

A church in BelarusBelarus, December 3, 2012: New Life Pentecostal Church was ordered on 27 November to hand over the keys to the renovated cowshed on the edge of Minsk that it uses for worship services and other activities. It was given a week to comply, after which the local housing authority has been told to provide “vehicles, manpower and everything necessary to evict” the church.

New Life, which has a congregation of around 1,000, has been locked in a losing battle with the Belarusian authorities to get the building re-designated as a place of worship since it bought the barn in 2002. In Belarus, advance state permission is required for a building to be used for religious activities, but officials generally refuse applications from Protestant groups.

New Life has been issued with numerous large fines for continuing to use the barn for worship; it   has nowhere else to meet, having been barred from using public facilities in Minsk.

In 2004, the authorities cut the building’s power supply, and in 2006, they formally confiscated the building and sent a bulldozer to demolish it. But New Life launched a hunger strike in defence of the site, a campaign that attracted high-level support from around the world and caused the authorities to back down.

But in 2009, a court threw out the church’s appeal against the confiscation of the building, and an eviction notice, similar to the latest one, was issued. On that occasion, the congregation refused to let the court executors in.

Until last week, no further attempt was made to evict the church, but the harassment continued. In August 2010, the church’s bank account was frozen, causing problems with its finances, including the administration of its charitable donations and payment of staff.Sergei Lukanin, New Life member and lawyer, said that he believes the latest effort to evict the church is linked with the appointment of a new KGB (secret police) head and the eviction of a human rights organisation, Vesna, from its premises in Minsk on 26 November:

Vesna’s eviction was a test to see how the public would react, and the lack of public reaction encouraged the authorities to deal with New Life. But ours is a quite different situation because people relate differently to us as we’re a religious organisation. We also believe in spiritual support from the Lord, and we have the experience of 2006, when quite extraordinarily the whole state machinery directed against us suddenly stopped, and we continue to meet in our building even though the land has not belonged to us since 2005 and the building since 2009.

– barnabas team

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