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AZERBAIJAN: No legal place of worship for 40,000-strong town
ICC Note:
Greater Grace Protestant Church has run out of options to regain legal status in the Azerbaijani courts.  The church was approved for registration in 2003 by the Justice Ministry, but did not gain registration with the State Committee in the controversial “re-registration” requirement of all religious organizations in Azerbaijan in 2009. This means that any members of the Church who gather to worship will be doing so illegally. Christians are not the only ones being denied legal status. Recently, the only registered Muslim community nearby was stripped of its registration. This means that for the 40,000 residents near the capital, Baku, there is now NO legal place of worship for any faith or religion.
By Felix Corley
01/17/2013 Azerbaijan (Forum 18) -“The only registered Muslim community in the town of Hirdalan near the Azerbaijani capital Baku has had its legal status stripped from it. This leaves the town’s 40,000 residents with no legal place of worship for any faith. This is the second time known to Forum 18 News Service that the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations has succeeded in court in having a religious community’s registration with the Justice Ministry stripped from it. The first, Baku’s Greater Grace Protestant Church, failed in its last-ditch Supreme Court challenge on 9 January. Losing legal status is a crippling blow for a religious community as – in defiance of Azerbaijan’s international human rights obligations – any religious activity without state registration is illegal and punishable.

Protestant Church’s final appeal fails
The liquidation of the Hirdalan Muslim community came after a similar court case in Baku to strip the city’s Greater Grace Protestant Church of its legal status. Judge Nigar Rasulbeyova of Azerbaijan’s Supreme Court rejected the Church’s last-ditch appeal against the liquidation on 9 January. “The hearing lasted just eight minutes,” church members told Forum 18. The Church has no further opportunities to challenge the stripping of legal status through the Azerbaijani court system.
As with the Hirdalan Muslim community, Greater Grace Church had gained its registration from the Justice Ministry, years before the compulsory re-registration with the State Committee mandated by the harsh 2009 Religion Law amendments. Neither the State Committee nor the courts have explained how one state agency can bring a case to remove the state registration issued by another.
The Church gained its Justice Ministry registration in 1993. The State Committee, which is now in charge of registering religious communities, lodged a liquidation suit in December 2011, arguing that the Church should be liquidated for failing to gain re-registration with it in 2009. In April 2012, Baku’s Administrative Economic Court No. 1 upheld the State Committee’s suit. The Appeal Court rejected the Church’s appeal in July 2012, after which the Church lodged its appeal to the Supreme Court”

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