Forum18 – The administrator of the Minsk-based charismatic New Life Church, Vasily Yurevich, has been fined a third time the massive amount of 3,825,000 Belarusian Roubles (11,270 Norwegian Kroner, 1,434 Euros or 1,727 US Dollars) for leading unauthorised worship. The average wage in Belarus is estimated to be between 100 and 150 US Dollars per month. The official text of the 7 October local court decision, which has been seen by Forum 18 News Service, relies upon police testimony identifying him as the organiser of the congregation’s 4 September Sunday service “by his outward appearance.” Yurevich had argued that he was on leave at the time, did not enter the church building and was present only to talk to Mayor of Minsk Mikhail Pavlov if he accepted New Life’s invitation to speak at the service about the city authorities’ recent decision to confiscate the church’s land (see F18News 1 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=640).
While meted out milder punishments, a number of other Protestant churches have also reported recent moves by state officials to limit their religious activity on the basis of technical violations (see eg. F18News 30 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=664).
Yurevich has already been given two similarly massive fines for the same offence (see F18 News 29 December 2004 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=480 and 28 September 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=661), and was on this third occasion found guilty of violating the procedure for conducting religious gatherings as set out in the law on demonstrations, whose requirement of state permission for public meetings was extended in 1999 to religious organisations in instances where their gatherings are not held at specially designated religious buildings or sites.
In addition to being refused permission to rent public facilities by district administrations throughout Minsk , New Life has been denied state permission to turn a disused cowshed it purchased in 2002 into a church building as well as to hold services there on the grounds that it is technically a cowshed. Similar obstacles have not been placed by the authorities against an Orthodox community’s use for worship of a disused railway carriage 500 metres (yards) away from the cowshed (see F18News 21 February 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=516).
The Administrative Violations Code holds the leader and/or organiser of religious meetings responsible for failing to observe the legal procedure for holding them. In this latest case, Judge Nadezhda Reutskaya accepted police officers’ testimony that Yurevich must have been the organiser of the 4 September service because one policewoman “spoke to him as the person responsible,” “people approached him, he greeted them and invited them to enter the church” and “his outward appearance differed from church members, who were simply dressed while he wore a suit.” Although New Life lawyer Sergei Lukanin and a church member told Minsk’s Moscow District Court that Yurevich was speaking to police and journalists outside the church and did not participate in the service, Judge Reutskaya ruled that there was no contradiction between the witness statements and that they all supported his conviction [Go To Full Story]