MINSK -- Authorities in Belarus are reported to have frozen the bank account of an embattled evangelical church, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
Syarhey Lukanin, the lawyer for the Minsk-based New Life Evangelical Christian Church, told RFE/RL today that city authorities froze the account in order to extract a fine imposed on the church on August 14 by the Minsk Economic Court.
The fine, for contaminating the ground near the church with oil and gasoline, amounts to $82,000. Lukanin said 955,000 Belarusian rubles ($315) have already been taken from the church's Belinvestbank account as part of the fine.
Lukanin told RFE/RL that the parish does not consider itself responsible for the contamination of the soil as the samples for the tests were taken in the absence of church representatives. He added that the parish is able to carry on without a bank account but that some of its social projects will be affected. He said the city authorities' next step may be the confiscation of the church's property.
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. They told RFE/RL that the authorities are now using economic reprisals to deprive the believers of the building.