Belarus Four-Week Hunger Strike Delivering 'Powerful Message'

By Michelle Vu
Christian Post Reporter

Believers and supporters of New Life Church in Minsk, Belarus, have maintained their hunger strike vowing not to end until the church's land and building are legally returned and members can legally worship in the building reported Forum 18, a human rights group.

According to an update by the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA-RLC) on Friday, there are currently 119 Protestants on strike in the church with about 30 people on their fourth week without food.

"The longer they fast, the rationale goes, the more extreme their suffering - and the more powerful their message," wrote Daisy Sindelar in an article on the Belarus hunger strike published by RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The 1,000-membered New Life Church has battled with authorities for its right to worship when the government reportedly denied the group registration and obstructed its efforts to rent a meeting place. Without registration it would be illegal for believers to worship in the church according to Belarusian laws. Moreover, officials have forced the sale of the church property at a significantly lower price in July.

New Life Church was ordered to vacate the premise before Oct. 8 but believers have refused and members and supporters instead moved into the property and began a hunger strike beginning on Oct. 6.

The church has garnered support throughout Belarus and internationally with 2,000 demonstrators gathered on Bangalore Square in Minsk on Oct. 21 to protest against the church's eviction, according to Charter 97, a Belarus human rights group. Also, on Oct. 9, some 500 believers attended a prayer service for New Life Church.

"It takes a very long time, it's a very painful way for someone to die," said Denis O'Hearn, a sociologist and biographer of what some have called the world's best-known hunger striker, Irish republican Bobby Sands, according to RFE/RL on Oct. 19. "And if people are willing to go through that, either rot to death or nearly to the death, it's quite an extreme and wrenching form of protest."