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Eight House Churches Shut Down in Northern Syria

Washington, D.C. (September 27, 2010) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that at least eight evangelical churches in northern Syria have been closed by the Syrian government.

The Syrian government ordered the closure of numerous ‘house churches’ for meeting in places the government deems inappropriate for worship. Many congregations in Syria cannot afford to buy a plot of land and build a church, so instead they purchase an apartment and turn it into a place of worship. However, during the past few months, the government has enforced a law stating that congregations must only gather in buildings that resemble a church.

Many Syrian Christians, however, believe that the government’s ‘legal’ excuse for closing churches is merely a cover-up for a wider government crackdown against evangelical Christian activity in Syria. “Syrian Christians that are active in their faith know that they are watched very closely and the government is waiting for an excuse to crack down on them,” a Syrian Christian told ICC. “The government is targeting all religious activities which are considered ‘extreme’ – from Muslim extremists all the way to Christians… It is generally believed that the government is getting reports from Orthodox and certain denominations as well as secret police and certain Islamic congregations.”

In a letter posted on the website of political analyst and Christian novelist Joel Rosenberg, an Arab believer explained, “Our brethren and churches in Syria need urgent prayers. The government closed about eight evangelical churches in the last two weeks. All these churches are in North Syria, mainly in Lattakia, Tartous, Homs, and wadi Al-Nasara. Some of the churches in Damascus and Aleppo know that their turn will come soon. They are closing some of the Baptist and Alliance churches. It is apparently by the approval of the High Counsel representative in Syria.”

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Christians in Syria, unlike some of their neighbors, have enjoyed relative freedom to practice their faith. Yet, religious freedom in Syria is a delicate ideal, and Syrian evangelicals have walked a tightrope to not offend the government and lose their precious liberty to worship. Prejudices and false reports targeting the Syrian evangelical community by both Orthodox Christians and certain Muslim groups, if continued, will destroy that fragile balance of religious freedom so cherished by Syrian evangelicals.  ICC appeals to the Syrian government to sustain that balance by preserving Syria’s religiously tolerant society and protecting its religious minorities.”