MINSK -- Dozens of police and military personnel have surrounded an evangelical Christian church in Minsk, in the latest episode in its long-running battle with authorities, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.
The police and military personnel told members of the New Life Church congregation that they were acting on behalf of the Minsk city interior department, the tax inspection, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and the state sanitary control agency. They said they had been informed that unidentified persons were selling food near the church. The parishioners called the information "absurd" and refused to allow the visitors inside the church.
The parishioners told RFE/RL that they were afraid the police and military personnel came to destroy the church building. The Minsk city authorities have been trying to confiscate the church building for five years.
On August 14, a ruling by the Minsk Economic Court fined the New Life Church $82,000 for contaminating of the ground near the church with gasoline and oil. The church's lawyer, Syarhey Lukanin, told RFE/RL that the parish did not consider itself responsible for the contamination of the soil as the samples for the tests were taken in the absence of church representatives.
The Minsk city authorities have been trying since 2005 to repossess the 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 say that now the authorities are using economic sanctions to deprive the believers of the building.