World Evangelical Alliance - Religious Liberty News & Analysis
The purpose of this brief posting is to update the situation in New Life Church, Minsk, Belarus and to provide resources to enable informed advocacy and prayer.
There are presently 119 Protestants on hunger strike. Around 30 of them are commencing their fourth week without food. This is courageous commitment in the extreme, but it is not glamorous. These believers are in great need of the LORD's intervention. (Proverbs 21:1, and 29:26). For background, see "Belarus: New Life Church Hunger Strike" WEA RLC New &
Analysis, 17 October 2006 (Link 1).
On Saturday 21 October some 2,000 Protestants rallied publicly in Bangalore Square, Minsk (with government permission) for an end to religious repression. This was a courageous and hugely significant public rally. (Photos - http://www.charter97.org/eng/news/2006/10/23/protestant)
VISIT FROM MILINKEVICH
Alysksandr Milinkevich [democratic leader] has visited the hunger strikers in the New Life Church. He encouraged the believers and expressed great admiration for their faith and courage. "I see very strong and courageous people here, who have a deep faith in God, who believe in justice. These people are invincible, and they are fighting for the simplest right, the right for freedom of worship. It is one of the most important rights of a human. I greatly respect these people, I wish them courage, I wish them not to lose health in this struggle. I know that God is with those who are here, and God wouldn't leave them." (Link 2)
FRESH APPEAL: HOPES RAISED THEN DASHED
According to Forum 18, President Lukashenka reportedly indicated a desire to provide assistance to the church. His aide for ideology issued a "strong recommendation" to New Life's Pastor, Vyacheslav Goncharenko, that the church make a fresh appeal to the Higher Economic Court. New Life church submitted a fresh appeal to the court on 18 October. However, the believers vowed to continue their hunger strike saying the protest will not end until the church's land and building are legally returned and the church's right to worship in its own property is
officially, legally acknowledged. (Link 3)
On 25 October the church received a letter from the Supreme Economic Court informing them that their pastor faces a massive fine for non-compliance of earlier court rulings. Charter 97 comments, "The Supreme Economic Court has fallen short of Protestants' expectations." The following day, when relatives of two of the New Life hunger strikers attempted to meet with Deputy Director of The Minsk Mayor Mr Michael Titenkov, Svetlana Matskevich, wife of hunger striker Vladimir Matskevich, was forcefully detained by police and taken to the Moscow District Police Station of Minsk for identification.
HEALTH FAILING: SITUATION BECOMING CRITICAL
Back on 18 October, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published a piece by Daisy Sindelar on Belarus' various hunger strikes. Sindelar writes, "Hernan Reyes, who oversees prisoner medical issues for the International Committee of the Red Cross, says determined strikers want to stay alive as long as they can.
"The longer they fast, the rationale goes, the more extreme their suffering -- and the more powerful their message. It only takes a few weeks for the physical pain of a fast to become profound.
"'You don't feel hunger after a few days because of the ketosis. You have ketones in your bloodstream, which actually stamp out sensations of hunger as we understand it,' Reyes says. 'But of course there are other sensations. After a couple of weeks you'll have what we call nystagmus, which means that you have these uncontrolled rapid eye movements which give you a feeling of dizziness or vertigo, and you feel like you just go off a carousel that's been spinning around very fast. And it's extremely unpleasant. People throw up, they can no longer drink their water. And this is definitely one phase of the hunger strike which all hunger strikers who reach it do remember.'
"That phase is rapidly approaching for the more than 150 Protestant believers in Belarus." (Link 4)
On 23 October volunteer doctors from the Union of Evangelic Baptist Christians recommended that Natallya Ivanova (60) end her fast because she was suffering acute cardiovascular insufficiency. Natallya was rushed to hospital on 24 October, seriously weakened and without a pulse.
On 26 October, Volha Kryshneva (50) was admitted to the intensive care unit of the regional hospital in Baraulyany, Minsk region with heart problems. She had been without food for 21 days. Olga Nikonova (48) was hospitalised to the 4th Clinic Hospital on 26 October with critical heart weakness.
New Life church website (http://www.newlife.by/ ) is being continuously updated by New Life Church Youth Press Centre, which was founded just recently by New Life youths in response to the hunger strike. It is an excellent source of information, photographs, stories and links.
A 23 October report by CBN reporter Gailon Totheroh, "Belarus Christians Fast for Freedom" comes with a video and Totheroh's blog that includes information and addresses for advocacy.
1) Belarus: New Life church hunger strike. 17 October 2006 World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
2) Alyaksandr Milinkevich Met Protestants on Hunger Strike 24 Oct 2006 http://www.charter97.org/eng/news/2006/10/24/am
3) BELARUS: Government to make U-turn on charismatic church?
By Geraldine Fagan, Forum 18 News Service. 20 October 2006
4) Belarus: Are Hunger Strikes Losing Their Power To Persuade?
By Daisy Sindelar, RFE/RL 19 Oct 2006
**WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis**
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