Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko of New Life Church will be detained for at least 10 days, as trial begins against congregation for spreading “extremist material”.
The pastor of New Life Church, a large and well-known evangelical church in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, has been jailed for 10 days after the police searched his home.
Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko and the church he leads have been targeted by the Belarusian authorities in the last years, and came especially under the radar for supporting the pro-democracy protests in the country after the fraudulent election in 2020, which have been heavily repressed by President Lukashenko with mass imprisonments and tortures. Christians from many churches have had to leave Belarus to continue to defend basic human rights.
20 officers of the Organised Crime and Corruption Department entered the home of the pastor, according to advocacy group Christian Vision For Belarus on 14 August, and detained Goncharenko for “resistance to police demands”. His son-in-law and Youth Pastor at New Life Church, Illia Budai, was also arrested.
Pastor of New Life Full Gospel Church Viachaslau Hancharenka was today detained together with his son-in-law Illia Budai. 20 armed policemen broke into his house, searched and detained them.
For Belarus it’s already a daily routine, when priests and pastors are arrested. pic.twitter.com/WuDkrPrmhL
— Christian Vision for Belarus (@ch_vision_by) August 14, 2023
The autocratic regime in Belarus forcibly evicted New Life Church from its temple in February 2021. The congregation continued to meet in the parking area of its premises until that was banned as well. In June of 2023, the authorities destroyed the building of the church with bulldozers, causing Pastor Goncharenko to say: “God sees our grief and the mockery of wicked people”. At the end of July, the website of the church was blocked.
According to the religious freedom advocacy group Forum 18 (Norway), New Life Church now faces a trial on 23 August for publishing “extremist” information that “builds up threats to national security, which includes artificially whipping up tensions in society”.
The Minsk Prosecutor specifically points to 2 website posts. One, in August 2020, a call to take part in a Pray for Belarus event in which the church said: “As Christians we condemn the recent violence and cruelty and appeal to the authorities to repent”. The second post, from November 2020, positioned the church against the regime’s violence against peaceful protestors in the anti-fraud protests.
Protestant sources in Belarus who know the situation well say this trial could be the prelude to “legally” close the church.
Evangelical Christians in Belarus have told Evangelical Focus that new legal cases are still being opened against citizens (including members of several churches) three years after the fraudulent national election that led to the massive protests against the regime of President Lukashenko in 2020.
The violation of human rights in this Eastern European country has been denounced by many international organisations. Recent cases include that of a Christian political prisoner who was deprived of being reunited with his wife and children after serving his sentence.