By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BAKU/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Devoted Christians on Tuesday, August 14, prepared to go to Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court after a lower tribunal upheld a decision to close down their Baku Greater Grace Protestant Church, adding to concerns about a reported crackdown on Protestants in Azerbaijan.
A panel of three judges at Baku Appeal Court, headed by Judge Seriyye Seyidova, rejected the Church’s appeal on July 31, the court said in published remarks.
Advocacy group Forum 18 quoted church members as saying they are already preparing a further appeal to Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court and insisted they will take the “case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary.”
Court liquidation would forcibly close the Church in the capital Baku and ban its activities, trial observers said.
The Baku Greater Grace Protestant Church had the required state registration with the Justice Ministry since 1993. However a new authority overseeing religious activities, the State Committee, reportedly said in December 20111 that the congregation “should be liquidated for failing to gain re-registration.”
“Many” Protestant communities “are among hundreds of religious communities, including mosques as well as Jehovah’s Witness communities,” whose
re-registration applications were lodged before the controversial Religion Law’s deadline of the end of 2009, Forum 18 told BosNewsLife.
“These have been either rejected or not answered. The State Committee is known to have approved only six registration or re-registration applications since the beginning of 2012,” the well-informed group added.
Heavily Islamic Azerbaijan, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is ruled by President Ilham Aliyev who has been criticized by the West over alleged human rights abuses. He denies wrongdoing, claiming to have introduced reforms after taking over from his autocratic-ruling father in 2003.
Aliyev’s administration is viewed as taking a tough line to groups perceived as threatening the oil-rich state and his power base, including apparently Christian groups.
(With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).