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Case against Minsk Church Stalled

By Geraldine Fagan,

Forum 18 (05/25/06) – The court case brought by Belarusian authorities to force the sale of the charismatic New Life church’s worship building – a disused cowshed – has been halted, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Judge Aleksandr Karamyshev “promised to investigate our situation after he saw that the city authorities’ arguments just don’t stand up,” New Life church administrator Vasily Yurevich told Forum 18. “We feel that people’s prayers are making a difference – we have reached a turning-point.” During the court hearing, Aleksei Vaga of Minsk ‘s Architecture Committee insisted under oath that city religious affairs officials have no influence over his committee. But in a letter which Forum 18 has a copy of, the Architecture Committee withdraws permission for the church to change the designated usage of its building, “taking into account a 24 November 2003 written conclusion from the Religious Affairs Department.” In a separate development, New Life is also “very pleased” about the acceptance of their appeal against a refusal to review a decision upholding curtailment of the church’s land rights. No date has yet been set for this hearing.

In what he described on 18 May as “a very good step forward,” New Life church administrator Vasily Yurevich told Forum 18 that the Minsk City Economic Court case brought to force the sale of the congregation’s worship building has been halted indefinitely: “We feel that people’s prayers are making a difference – we have reached a turning-point.”

According to Yurevich, Judge Aleksandr Karamyshev on 16 May “promised to investigate our situation after he saw that the city authorities’ arguments just don’t stand up” – in particular that New Life’s worship building must be demolished as part of municipal development plans. “There is no finalised plan to this day,” the church administrator maintained, “and if Minsk City Executive Committee can review its plans at any stage, why don’t they do so for us?”

Yurevich also told Forum 18 that Aleksei Vaga of Minsk ‘s Architecture Committee insisted to the court under oath that the city’s religious affairs officials have no influence over his committee. In a 22 December 2003 letter to New Life, however – of which Forum 18 has received a copy – the Architecture Committee withdraws permission for the church to change the designated usage of its building, “taking into account a 24 November 2003 written conclusion from the Religious Affairs Department.”

A secretary at Minsk City Economic Court directed Forum 18 to its press service on 24 May, but its telephone went unanswered, as did that of Aleksei Vaga of Minsk ‘s Architecture Committee.

In a separate development, New Life is “very pleased” about the supervisory body of the Higher Economic Court’s 17 May acceptance of an appeal filed by the church, Yurevich told Forum 18. The appeal is against the Higher Economic Court‘s 3 May refusal to review a lower decision upholding curtailment of the church’s land rights. No date has yet been set for a hearing.

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