Nagorno-Karabakh: Suspended sentence for embattled Baptist conscript

FORUM 18 NEWS SERVICE, Oslo, Norway

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

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Wednesday 13 July 2005
NAGORNO-KARABAKH: SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR EMBATTLED BAPTIST CONSCRIPT

Embattled Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan received a two-year sentence,
suspended for one year, at his 7 July trial. He had refused to swear the
military oath or serve with weapons since being called up into the army of
the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus.
“This means he won’t have to serve any time in prison – if of course
he does nothing wrong over the next year,” Albert Voskanyan of the
local Centre for Civilian Initiatives told Forum 18 News Service. Beaten
twice since his conscription last December, Mirzoyan spent 10 days in
prison for preaching his faith in his army unit. “After a lot of
pressure, Gagik was finally happy because he could see his brothers and
sisters from the church at his trial,” a Baptist told Forum 18.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH: SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR EMBATTLED BAPTIST CONSCRIPT

By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service

Embattled Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan from the unrecognised republic
of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus who refuses to swear the
military oath or bear arms because of his religious convictions has been
given a suspended sentence, a member of the Council of Churches Baptists
has told Forum 18 News Service. On 7 July the district court of Hadrut in
south-eastern Karabakh sentenced Mirzoyan to two years’ imprisonment,
suspended for one year. “After a lot of pressure, Gagik was finally
happy because he could see his brothers and sisters from the church at his
trial,” the Baptist told Forum 18 on 13 July. “Some were even
there from outside Karabakh.” Welcoming the fact that the sentence
was suspended was Albert Voskanyan, director of the Centre for Civilian
Initiatives. “This means he won’t have to serve any time in prison –
if of course he does nothing wrong over the next year,” he told Forum
18 from the capital Stepanakert on 13 July.

Voskanyan attributed the relatively mild penalty to the international
attention the case has generated. “Of course the attention played a
positive part in achieving only a suspended sentence,” he told Forum
18. “This is a good result.” Mirzoyan’s fellow Baptists had
feared a prison term of up to two years. Karabakh officials have revealed
to Forum 18 in recent months that letters about his case had arrived in
Stepanakert from around the world.

Nagorno-Karabakh has compulsory military service for all young men, with
no alternative service provision. Mirzoyan was found guilty under Article
364 part 1 of the criminal code (Nagorno-Karabakh has adopted Armenia’s
criminal code), which punishes “refusal to perform one’s military
duties” with detention of up to 3 months, disciplinary battalion of
up to 2 years or imprisonment of up to 2 years. However, the court ruled
that the sentence should be suspended under Article 70 of the criminal
code, which covers conditional punishments.

Mirzoyan is now back with his military unit in the Hadrut district.
“He is OK there, though we have to keep an eye on the case,”
Voskanyan added. The Baptist agreed, reporting that although Mirzoyan is
under “special supervision” at the unit, he is not being
pressured at the moment.

Mirzoyan, a Karabakh native, was called up last December and refused to
serve with weapons or to swear the military oath on grounds of religious
conscience. Since being conscripted he has been beaten up in two different
military units and served 10 days in military prison (see F18News 6 January
2005 and 15 April 2005
).

On the day of the trial, an official of Nagorno-Karabakh’s foreign
ministry had told Forum 18 that no case against Mirzoyan had been
completed (see F18News 7 July 2005
). It remains unclear
why the official failed to tell Forum 18 that the trial was taking place
that day.

Two Jehovah’s Witnesses – Karabakh native Areg Hovhanesyan and
Armenian citizen Armen Grigoryan, who had been illegally deported from
Armenia to serve in Karabakh against his will – have been sentenced
in Nagorno-Karabakh this year for refusing military service on grounds of
religious conscience. Hovhanesyan is serving his four-year sentence in
prison in the Karabakh town of Shushi, while Grigoryan has been returned
to Armenia to serve his two year sentence (see F18News 7 July 2005
).

A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is
available at
;Rootm ap=azerba
within the map titled ‘Azerbaijan’.

A printer-friendly map of Armenia is available at
;Rootmap=armeni
(END)

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