20 January 2018, Saturday, 16:11

Authorities backtrack on plans to evict New Life Church


The Minsk City Economic Court has reversed its eviction order against a Protestant community called New Life Church.

A representative of the Minsk City Economic Court phoned New Life Church lawyer Syarhey Lukanin on Friday morning to announce that the court proceedings against the community had been terminated at the request of the Maskowski district housing authority and invite Mr. Lukanin to collect papers confirming the reversal of the eviction decision.

Mr. Lukanin was notified of the decision on Thursday a few hours after the community’s leader, Vyachaslaw Hancharenka, suffered a transient ischemic attack or a stroke and was rushed to an emergency hospital.

A magnetic resonance imaging scan revealed a blood clot in an inaccessible area of his brain. The condition of the 42-year-old man deteriorated in the afternoon and there were fears that he could have a stroke.

As of Friday morning, Mr. Hancharenka appeared to be responding to treatment as doctors prepared to remove the clot with the help of anticoagulants.

“Vyachaslaw can now see and talk properly and walks around the ward on his own,” Mr. Lukanin said. “Even so, he continues to stay at the hospital’s resuscitation unit.”

In a new twist of an eviction battle that appeared to be over at the end of last year, the Minsk City Economic Court ordered New Life Church on Thursday to vacate its prayer house by June 20.

The eviction order was issued at the request of the Maskowski district housing authority, which formally owns the community’s prayer house and land plot on the outskirts of Minsk.

In an interview given on Thursday evening, Mr. Lukanin said that members of New Life Church were bracing themselves for a last-ditch stand to prevent their eviction and for a prayer vigil for Mr. Hancharenka’s health.

Mr. Lukanin stressed that New Life Church had no intention of vacating its prayer house. “Tomorrow we’ll be fasting and asking God to heal our pastor and protect our house,” he said. “We’re determined to hold such prayer services every day.”

New Life Church, the largest community in the Association of Full Gospel Christians, obtained state registration in December 1992 and is said to have more than 1000 members.

In 2002, the community bought a former cowshed together with a four-acre land plot from a kolkhoz. It converted the building into a prayer house and some 500 to 700 people gathered there each Sunday for worship.

In 2005, the city government accused New Life Church of remodeling the cowshed without permission and launched a legal battle to evict it.

At the end of November 2012, the community was also given a week to vacate its building.

New Life Church refused to surrender its prayer house voluntarily, started an open-ended prayer vigil inside the building, and appealed for help to the central government as well as the Belarusian public and the international community. On December 4, the court proceedings against New Life Church were terminated at the request of the district housing authority.

New Life Church subsequently called on the housing authority to formally recognize the community as the owner of its prayer house and land plot.