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One of Minsk’s largest evangelical churches shut down after years of harassment

A Belarusian court upholds liquidation of the New Life Church, for failing to re-register and allegedly “spread propaganda of war”.

FUENTES Evangelical Focus, CNE.news, Forum 18 News AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus MINSK 20 DE OCTUBRE DE 2023 10:37 h
For many months, the Sunday services of the New Life Pentecostal church were held in the car parking lot. / [link]Forum 18[/link]

The Minsk City Court announced the official liquidation of the New Life Church, which becomes illegal after 21 years active in the Belarussian capital.



In the hearing, the Pentecostal church was accused of not re-registering by 2004 as required by the Religion Law and of carrying out activities beyond its statute, such as a summer camp for children.



The public prosecutor, Yekaterina Kaverina, said that the evangelical church “spread propaganda of war or extremist activities”.



With the liquidation, any activity the church undertakes would risk a fine or imprisonment for up to two years, because the Criminal Code punishes “the organisation of or participation in activities by an unregistered political party, foundation, civil or religious organisation”.



The church, one of the largest in Minsk, expressed support for the peaceful pro-democracy protests of 2020, and has denounced being a target of the authorities for not supporting the Belarussian regime of President Aleksandr Lukashenko.



 



Not strong enough reasons



According to Vyacheslav Goncharenko, pastor of New Life Church, the reasons for closing the church he leads are weak.



The Christian community church was initially registered at a different address, but when it applied for re-registration in 2004 with the former cowshed address, the authorities rejected the documents. The summer camp was started by volunteers and parents, and the church was not involved, reports Forum 18, a Norwegian religious freedom advocacy group.



“I do not understand why officials brought up this issue now after almost 10 years", Goncharenko told Forum 18. He also speculates that the authorities might be seeking revenge on the Church for years of resistance and disobedience.



 



“Let us not be discouraged”



In a recorded video message sent through Telegram, oastor Goncharenko talked reminding his church members that the court decision will take 15 days to come into force, and the entire liquidation process could even take several months, if the church decides to appeal.



“Let us not be discouraged”, added Goncharenko, who also encouraged his church to continue meeting and praying together.



 



A long process



The verdict came around 15 weeks after the local government bulldozed New Life's place of worship. Some weeks later, Belarusian authorities closed the church website, and pastor Goncharenko was jailed for 10 days.



Evangelical Focus interviewed Belarussian pastor in June 2021, and he then lamented that “the state suppresses everything they identify as an enemy”.



Earlier attempts to evict the church in December 2020, April 2017 and June 2013 were unsuccessful. In February 2021, police and bailiffs forcibly expelled the community from its church, but on the following Sunday, dozens of Christians gathered in the snow outside the church building.



 




[analysis]



  [title] Belarus new religion draft law [/title]



[text]After reaching the regime's non-freely elected parliament on 29 September, the Belarus' new Religion draft law passed its first reading in the House of Representatives, on 11 October. No date has been set for a second reading, reported Forum 18 News.



The new draft law continues to require all religious communities to gain state registration before they are allowed to operate, with tighter registration restrictions and conditions, and now imposes compulsory re-registration within one year on all registered religious groups.



It also increases censorship and restrictions on religious literature and items, includes new restrictions on religious education and charitable activity, and gives more power to the regime to inspect and monitor religious communities.



The draft law makes wide use of the terms "extremism" and "terrorism", without defining them, to give greater legal possibilities for the regime to forcibly close religious communities.[/text]


[/analysis]

 

 


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