Belarus highest court liquidates church

22-12-2023

Eastern Europe

CNE.news

The church was demolished earlier this year. Photo screenshot Vyacheslav Goncharenko’s video message

The New Life Church has been permanently disbanded. The latest appeals by the pastor did not deter the judges from doing so.

Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko no longer has a church. Last Monday, Belarus’ Supreme Court ruled that his church “New Life” is extremist and must be closed. The ruling concludes a long legal battle between the church and Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime.

The authorities label this church as “extremist” but refuse to give an explanation for this. As CNE.news wrote earlier, the authorities refused to explain.

The New Life Church had existed for 31 years. However, since the beginning of this century, it has been embroiled in a conflict with the authorities. In 2002, for example, the government turned down several requests to recognise the church’s new premises as a house of worship. Since then, the conflict escalated further.

At the beginning of 2021, the congregation was evicted from the church by force. That did not stop the faithful; instead, they came together in the parking lot despite the cold and wintry weather.

Determined to break up the church, the Belarusian authorities proceeded to criminalise the worship services in September 2022. Last July, the Belarusian authorities destroyed the church building altogether. In August, they took down the church website.

Besides the liquidation, the church was punished with a fine of 111 Belarusian roubles (about 31 euros, an average of two daily wages).

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the New Life Church has been praying “for the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine.” The pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, recorded a video message on February 24, 2022, stating that “war is madness” and with a call for prayer for peace. The church also criticised violence by Belarusian security forces against protesters in 2020.

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