BAKU, Azerbaijan (CDN) — A Christian congregation in Azerbaijan is waiting pensively to see if a judge will uphold a court order that banned its right to meet and “liquidated” the church.
“They are upset, but at the same time they continue coming out hoping for the best,” said Mechti Suleymanov, an elder at Greater Grace Church, Baku, Azerbaijan, which has been meeting for roughly 20 years.
Judge Tahira Asadova of Baku’s Administrative Economic Court ordered Greater Grace Church to be “liquidated” April 25 after the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) filed suit against it for failing to register with the committee. The liquidation rendered all activities of the church illegal.
The church appealed the decision May 24 and is waiting for another ruling, scheduled for July 17, from a judge at the Baku Court of Appeals.
“If the court upholds the decision, we will have no right to assemble,” Suleymanov said. “If we continue to meet, then they will come and start harassing us.”
Greater Grace Church registered with the Justice Ministry in 1993 and gave copies of its registration papers to the SCWRO. According to Forum 18 News, the committee never sent the church a request to re-file a registration with the committee.
Matti Sirvio, one of the founders of Greater Grace, said he sees the crack-down on Christians as an attempt by the government to save face with Islamic groups within the country.
In December 2011, authorities arrested the pastor of a church in Neftechala that was not registered with the SCWRO. Authorities seized Bibles, books, magazines, audio recordings and videotapes. Initially, authorities also sealed the church building the congregation used. Police interrogated members of the congregation.
Only two Protestant churches in Azerbaijan have had their registrations approved. The overwhelming majority of the registrations have been granted to Shia Muslim groups.