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Belarusian Christians Call for International Support as Government Attempts to Take Over Minsk Church

CSW (10/5/06) – Christians in Belarus are bracing themselves for the consequences of their decision to peacefully resist government attempts to take over the premises of the New Life Church in the capital city, Minsk . The government has informed them that as of October 8th the property should be turned over to the authorities.

According to sources inside Belarus , the Church has been told that the government is “forcibly purchasing” the church building and the land on which it stands. The authorities claimed that they transferred payment for the building into the Church bank account on September 29th and that the congregation would have ten days from that date to turn the property over to the government.

An appeal from Belarus calling for international support states that, “New Life Church will not give up its building voluntarily, which means that by gathering all its human resources New Life’s Christians will stand for their rights alongside with other Belarusian Christians from other churches and stay inside the building day and night, if such need arises…”

The New Life Church , which has a membership of over 1000, has been the target of repeated government fines and attempts to shut it down. The Church bought the building in 2001 and has repeatedly applied to use it for religious purposes. However the authorities have refused this authorisation – a difficulty faced by many non-orthodox religious groups when applying to use a building for religious purposes. The building continues to appear on city plans as authorised only for use as a “cow shed,” although it is illegal to keep cattle within city limits.

According to Forum 18 news service, the Belarusian authorities gave differing accounts of why the land was being forcibly bought by the government when they were questioned. Some pointed to its official designation as a cow shed while others said that it had not been “envisaged” in a new City Development plan.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s National Director, Stuart Windsor, says “We are deeply concerned by this development. The Belarusian government must comply with its international obligations on religious freedom, particularly under terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a party. In this particular case we call on the Belarusian authorities to reverse this decision and to grant the New Life Church official permission to exist and operate as a church. CSW will continue to monitor the situation closely; the New Life Church can be assured of our support and solidarity.”

Notes to Editors

Belarus has repeatedly been designated the worst violator of religious freedom in Europe .

Non-orthodox churches have consistently reported similar treatment to that experienced by the New Life Church .

Earlier this year, two Christian leaders were arrested and sentenced to 10 day prison sentences in separate cases.

Information on the New Life Church can be found here.