BAKU/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)-- Authorities in Azerbaijan continued preparations Tuesday, March 13, to close down an evangelical church in the first such reported incident since the former Soviet republic introduced harsh religious legislation in 2009, rights activists said.
Advocacy group Forum 18 told Worthy News that the Greater Grace Church in the capital Baku had failed to regain the compulsory re-registration.
Azerbaijan's State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations reportedly prepared to take legal steps against the church Thursday March 15, with Judge Tahira Asadova saying "the case begins properly" at 1600 hours local time.
In published remarks church members reject the suit describing it as an "illegal liquidation" of its legal status obtained in 1993, adding that the move would violate their "Constitutional rights to freedom of religion".
Elsewhere in the former Soviet region, some 579 small churches and other faith groups with fewer than 50 adult members have effectively been declared illegal in Kazakhstan, leading to a 13 percent drop in registered religious organizations, reported rights group Forum 18.
Especially leaders of evangelical churches, such as the Grace, Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist churches, have been summoned to be stripped of registration and warned not to meet, Christians said.
"Now our believers are afraid each time they gather for worship," the news service of Forum 18 quoted a church member as saying.
Officials in both former Soviet republics have defended the moves, saying all people should accept the laws of the land.
Christians view the development as part of a wider attempt to crackdown on devoted Christians and other groups, including some Muslims, viewed as a threat to the autocratic rulers power base.