The Washington-DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) has just learned that New Life Church in Minsk, Belarus, is in the midst of a fierce legal battle with city authorities to keep their property, and has started a growing hunger-strike to protest the government’s arbitrary decision to repossess their building.
New Life Church has been fighting for a place to meet since September 2004. Because they were prohibited from renting a public venue for meetings, the church moved to a disused cowshed on the outskirts of the city. In response, the government has issued New Life several large fines for using the building in a manner not consistent with its purpose. At the same time, city officials refuse to allow a change in their zoning laws to permit the cowshed to be transformed into a house of worship. On October 6, city officials transferred the miniscule price they had set for the building into New Life’s account and declared that the church’s time was up to keep its property.
After exhausting all avenues of appeal, the 1,000 member church declared that they would stage a protest and hunger-strike, holding services every day. The protest has grown from 17 people to almost 160, and is starting to attract international attention as well. At the same time, New Life Church has reported two frightening incidents.
The church reported that on October 11, a trailer moving a bulldozer and two trucks, and three minibuses with tinted windows, drove to their building but did not explain why they were there. The driver of the trailer said that they had been sent by the Minsk City Executive Committee to “level things up here,” but did not take any action as he was “waiting for further orders.”
In addition, on the evening of October 17 a group of senior police officers and others dressed in plain clothes came to the church and watched it for an extended period of time.
Today’s news that a senior state official has told New Life Church to re-submit their appeal is a renewed call to action. There is hope that the Belarusian government could reverse course and allow New Life to keep the building. ICC encourages all Christians to contact their Belarusian embassy to ask them to uphold religious freedom by allowing New Life Church in Minsk to keep its property.
Embassy of Belarus, USA
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009
Main Telephone: (202) 986-1604
Fax: (202) 986-1805
General emails: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emails to the Political Section: email@example.com
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus, United Kingdom
6 Kensington Court,
London W8 5DL
Telephone No: (44) 207 937 32 88
Fax No. (44) 207 361 00 05
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