Azerbaijan (MNN) — Religious freedom in Azerbaijan took another hit as an established evangelical church was liquidated. According to Forum 18 news, a court in Baku has ruled to liquidate the Greater Grace Protestant Church.
Russian Ministries provides pastoral training and runs School without Walls training in that Central Asia nation. Project Manager for Russian Ministries, Wade Kusack, is concerned. "This is the first attempt of the government of Azerbaijan to openly attack and liquidate a Christian church. This is very scary situation."'
Greater Grace Church isn't a new church, says Kusack. "The particular church, Greater Grace Church, was registered for 19 years, and they served the people for 19 years without any problems."
Unfortunately, the government passed a new religion law which required re-registration. According to Kusack, "They denied their re-registration process for some unclear reason. Court was held without a church representative present. It was nearly 15 minutes without representative present, and the judge just made the decision to liquidate the church."
Kusack says the church isn't closed yet. "The church can perform all its action. The church will function for some time, and this decision will be appealed to the highest court." No date has been set for the hearing.
Religious freedom has been waning in Azerbaijan since June 2011 when more restrictive religious laws were passed requiring additional requirements for registration. Kusack says if the appeal is upheld and church members continue meeting together–even in small groups, they can be in violation of the illegal religious activity law. "Under this law, it's going to be illegal religious activity. Those people can be arrested, fined, jailed — up to two, three, or four years — just for gathering and praying together."
Kusack says it's all about control. "It's very hard to control the protestant church. They don't have one leader, such as the leader of the Orthodox Church, for example. They can control the whole church."
Azerbaijan is now waiting. Kusack says, "They're now trying to understand how the West will react on this. Depending on how they react, they will go further." This means even more religious freedom restrictions could be made.
Kusack is asking Christians to pray for a growing Azerbaijani church. You can help support Russian Ministries work in Azerbaijan. Click here to support School Without Walls train influential young people to be bold in their faith and lead the Next Generation church.