BAKU/BUDAPEST(ANS)-- A Baptist church in Azerbaijan is
threatened with demolition amid growing concern about wide spread violence and
persecution of Christians across the former Soviet Union.
The Keston News Service (KNS), which monitors religious persecution, said an Interior Ministry colonel has threatened an unregistered Baptist church in the capital Baku with demolition if it the refuses to register with authorities of the mainly Muslim nation.
"If you don't register we'll close the church and knock it down," Pastor Ivan Orlov, leader of the Baku church, quoted Colonel Aliev as having told the Baptists verbally. "Colonel Aliev of the national Interior Ministry also threatened to have church members sacked from their work," KNS said.
Some Christians are known to object to register themselves with officials, as they see God as their highest authority. A statement from the church expressed concern about "pressure on believers" and called for support in prayer and appeals to the authorities.
The demolition threat of the church seemed a repeat of
similar incidents in Russia, that once dominated the Soviet Union. Last month,
October 1, an Orthodox Church was reportedly destroyed in Naberezhnyye Chelny,
the second largest city in one of the strongest Islamic area's of Russia,
following several other violent acts against churches and Christian symbols.
In neighboring Georgia, another former Soviet republic, Christians are also increasingly confronted with violence at a time when believers complain that the authorities seem unwilling to take their complaints seriously.
KNS said that Mikhail Saralishvili, officer manager of the Georgian Bible Society, has withdrawn "in disgust" from criminal procedures against an Orthodox priest, who allegedly lead the mob that attacked him last year.
True Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili was said to have encouraged people to attack Saralishvili in March 2001. But Saralishvili said that the authorities "failed to take these crimes seriously."
Analysts and church officials have attributed the apparent
new wave of violence to concern among the authorities and traditional religions
to lose followers to the rapidly spreading evangelical movements and sects.
Human rights groups seem to hope that the region will not follow the example of the former Soviet republic of Belarus, which adopted what critics call Europe's most repressive law, last month. Protestant church leaders have pledged to defy the new legislation, which they say only recognizes the Orthodox Church as a true religion.
They have however expressed concern that their intention to continue to preach the Gospel, will lead to fines and jail terms. Several countries, including the United States and the European Union, have expressed concern about the religious situation in Belarus and several other parts of the former Soviet Union.