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(Forum 18) – State authorities in Minsk , Belarus ‘ capital, have given the charismatic New Life Church a second official warning under the religion law, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Under the law, two official warnings are sufficient grounds for banning the church. The latest warning states that the church’s pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, organised and held “prayer readings and sermons on premises not specially designed for the holding of religious events… without corresponding permission from the [state] administration…” The church is appealing against this, arguing that the court hearing was accompanied by procedural violations so it cannot be grounds for either an official warning or liquidation.

Procedural violations included insufficient time to prepare a defense due to delivery of the court summons on the eve of the midday hearing, and admission of only seven out of 100 defense witnesses due to the small size of the courtroom – and only after the verdict was announced. The official warning was issued after Pastor Goncharenko’s conviction for “illegal” religious activity and a fine imposed on him of 30 times the monthly minimum wage.