F18News: Promises broken by continued jailing of pris. of conscience


The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

Tuesday 19 October 2004

This month (October), five Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to jail
terms for their conscientious objection, on religious grounds, to military
service. A sixth prisoner of conscience has been given a lesser sentence,
Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The number of imprisoned Jehovah’s
Witnesses has been brought to thirteen by these sentences, with a further
two awaiting trial on the same charges. The continued sentencing and
detention of religious prisoners of conscience clearly violates Armenia’s
previous promises to free its religious prisoners, and to introduce
alternative civilian service. The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to
explain to Forum 18 how these latest sentences matched Armenia’s previous
promises, claiming that the issue is “outside the competence of the
Foreign Ministry”.


By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Five Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced so far in October to two years
of prison each, for refusing military service on grounds of conscience. A
sixth prisoner of conscience has been given a lesser sentence, Jehovah’s
Witness lawyer Rustam Khachatryan told Forum 18 News Service from the
capital Yerevan on 19 October. Called up in May, along with other Armenian
young men, all six officially lodged a request to do alternative civilian
service, but were told that such an alternative did not exist.

“Technically these sentences are correct, as all the Jehovah’s
Witnesses were called up before the new alternative service law came into
force,” Stefan Buchmayer, human rights officer at the Yerevan office
of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) told
Forum 18 on 19 October. “However, they show a certain lack of goodwill
on the part of the authorities as everyone knew that the law was coming
into force on 1 July. Besides, the right to alternative service is an
important human right – that is why our office has been following
these cases.”

On 22 June, the Armenian Parliament’s deputy speaker Tigran Torosyan, who
heads the Armenian delegation to the Council of Europe, told Jehovah’s
Witness representatives at the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly in
Strasbourg that all conscientious objector prisoners would be freed once
the new law on alternative service came into force on 1 July (see F18News 3
August 2004 ).

Natalia Voutova, the Council of Europe representative in Yerevan, told
Forum 18 on 19 October that her organisation is monitoring the latest
developments. She pointed out that in 2001 Armenia committed itself to
adopting an alternative service law and freeing all imprisoned
conscientious objectors and said that these commitments have been closely
monitored since 2001. The Armenian Foreign Ministry declined to explain how
the latest sentences met Armenia’s commitments to the Council of Europe.
Vladimir Karapetian of the ministry’s Media Relations Division claimed to
Forum 18 on 19 October that the issue is “outside the competence of
the Foreign Ministry”.

This month’s new sentences bring the number of imprisoned Jehovah’s Witness
young men to thirteen, with a further two are awaiting trial on the same
charges. The continued sentencing and detention of religious prisoners of
conscience violates Armenia’s commitments to the Council of Europe, and
comes after the justice ministry finally registered the Jehovah’s Witnesses
as a religious community, after years of official obstruction (see F18News
12 October 2004 ).

Four of the new prisoners were sentenced by a court in the town of Armavir,
50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital: Karen Hakopyan on 7 October,
Arsen Sarkisyan on 8 October, Mher Mirpakhatyan on 13 October, and Artur
Manukyan on 14 October. Hovhanes Bayatyan was sentenced by Yerevan’s
Erebuni-Nubarashen court on 14 October. All were given the maximum sentence
under Article 327 part I of the criminal code, which reads: “Evading a
recurring call to emergency military service, or educational or military
training, without a legal basis for being relieved of this service, shall
incur a fine in the amount of 300 to 500 minimum [monthly] wages or arrest
for up to two months or imprisonment for up to two years.” They are
now being held in Nubarashen prison.

A sixth, Asatur Badalyan, was sentenced on 1 October to one and a half
year’s imprisonment by a court in Kotaik in central Armenia, but the judge
allowed him to remain at home because it was felt as a Jehovah’s Witness
his behaviour would be good. However, there are fears he will be arrested
on 20 October, Khachatryan told Forum 18. Two other Jehovah’s Witnesses
received two year prison sentences in August.

Meanwhile, the trial of Grisha Kazaryan, arrested on 17 September and being
detained in Nubarashen, is expected at the end of October. Nshan Shagiyan,
who is from Yerevan, was required to give a written undertaken on 16
September not to leave the city. His trial is due at Yerevan’s
Malatia-Sebastia court on 26 October.

Jehovah’s Witness lawyer Khachatryan told Forum 18 that all these young men
wrote to both the recruitment office, and the general public prosecutor,
explaining that they could not do military service because of their
religious beliefs (the Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists), but that they
were prepared to do alternative civilian service outside the control of the
armed forces. He said the recruitment office summoned each applicant, to
establish that they had actually written the application. Recruitment
office officials then told each one verbally that alternative service did
not exist and handed their cases to the prosecutor, after which criminal
proceedings were launched.

“The alternative service law has been adopted, but there is no
mechanism for doing alternative service yet,” Khachatryan lamented.
“Besides, it’s not clear that when it does come in whether it will be
genuinely civilian or not. The law doesn’t say it will be civilian.”

Khachatryan added that the autumn call-up is now underway. Four Jehovah’s
Witness young men have written to the recruitment office so far, indicating
that they cannot serve in the military on religious grounds and applying
for alternative civilian service. “Nothing has happened to them so
far,” he noted.

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