Armenian conscientious objectors appeal to European Court
YEREVAN, Armenia—In an attempt to preempt the Armenian government from retroactively applying new modifications to the Criminal Code and bringing fresh prosecutions against conscientious objectors who left alternative service, an application was submitted today to the European Court of Human Rights. The application claims that the rights of conscientious objectors guaranteed by the European Convention have been violated.
Despite its commitments as a member of the Council of Europe, Armenia continues to prosecute and imprison young male Jehovah’s Witnesses as criminals for their conscientious objection to military service. In this case, the applicants are conscientious objectors who chose alternative labour service, having been assured that it was genuine civilian service. However, after they started their service, the law was modified. When it became clear that their service was under the control and supervision of the military, they left the service. At that time doing so was not a criminal act. Nevertheless, they were illegally charged and prosecuted. Fifteen of the 19 applicants were arrested and held in pretrial detention for several months without justification. Eleven were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years to three years and six months. Although the convictions were eventually overturned and all were released from prison, the courts refused to acquit the young men or terminate the criminal proceedings.
Instead of modifying the existing alternative service law to provide for a genuine civilian service, amendments that came into force in 2006 allow for the prosecution of conscientious objectors who leave alternative service. When these amendments were submitted to the National Assembly, indications were that they will be applied retroactively, thus fueling fears that a fresh round of prosecutions against the 19 applicants is imminent.
Twenty-eight conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently in prison for their conscientious refusal of military service. Their study of the Bible convinced them that Christ’s followers love their neighbors and that Christians are an international brotherhood who do not resort to weapons of warfare or learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 22:39; 26:52) For this reason, they refused military service or any form of alternative service under military supervision or control.