MINSK -- Protestant Christians in Minsk have asked Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to protect an embattled evangelical church in the capital, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
The call came in an open letter sent to Lukashenka on November 2 by some 140 members from the congregations of several Baptist churches.
The New Life Evangelical Christian Church was fined the equivalent of $82,000 in August for contaminating the ground near the church with gasoline and oil.
The church's leadership refused to pay the fine, saying the church is not responsible for the contamination of the soil and that the samples for the tests were taken in the absence of church representatives.
The Minsk Economic Court, which imposed the fine, later froze the church's bank account. Minsk authorities also say the church's pastor, Vyachaslau Hancharenka, may face up to five years in jail and the church's property may be confiscated for refusal to pay the fine.
Parishioners told RFE/RL they are ready to fight to protect the church and its pastor if necessary.
The Minsk city authorities have been trying since 2005 to repossess the church building, a Soviet-era barn formerly used for cattle. The church congregation has organized numerous protests, including hunger strikes, to retain control of the building.
According to the parishioners, the authorities are using economic sanctions to try to expropriate the building.