Progress in Armenia but still no genuine alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors

Progress in Armenia but still no genuine alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors
YEREVAN, Armenia—Eight years ago today, Armenia joined the Council of Europe on the condition that within three years the country would adopt a law on alternative civilian service and in the meantime would pardon all imprisoned conscientious objectors. As of January 1, 2009, more than 80 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison for their conscientious refusal of military service.

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES OFFICE OF PUBLIC INFORMATION

For Immediate Release
January 25, 2009
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Progress in Armenia but still no genuine alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors

YEREVAN, Armenia—Eight years ago today, Armenia joined the Council of Europe on the condition that within three years the country would adopt a law on alternative civilian service and in the meantime would pardon all imprisoned conscientious objectors.

As of January 1, 2009, more than 80 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison for their conscientious refusal of military service. Many more are expected to face trial in the coming months. Although the government of Armenia has organized nonmilitary work assignments, alternative service is under military control and supervision. Thus the law, as well as its implementation, fails to meet the criteria laid down by the Council of Europe. Therefore, the alternative service law in its present form is not an option for conscientious objectors. This has been confirmed by the OSCE Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel, which states that “alternative service should be performed under a purely civilian administration, with no involvement by the military authority.”

Nevertheless, representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses have welcomed the opportunity to explain their position to officials in the Justice and Defense Ministries, the General Prosecutor’s Office, and high-ranking military officers. The constructive dialogue has resulted in progress on a number of issues.

Following an instruction from the Defense Minister, Seyran Ohanyan, military commissariats are issuing registration cards and passports to released prisoners. Previously, released prisoners were refused these documents until they reached the age of 27. Denying them a passport prevented the young men from registering their place of residence, traveling outside of Armenia, obtaining certain employment, and even from getting married.

Another positive development is that the Deputy Prosecutor-General, Mr. Aram Tamazyan, agreed that those awaiting trial for refusing military service would no longer be held in pretrial detention. Currently no conscientious objector is being held in pretrial detention.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged by recent progress as a result of the willingness of government representatives to listen to the Witnesses’ concerns. They also appreciate the religious freedoms they enjoy in Armenia. So far, over 360 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced in Armenia. Having a genuine alternative service totally outside of military supervision will consolidate the fundamental religious freedom in Armenia. When Armenia’s law on alternative service complies with European standards, the remaining obstacles should be resolved.

Contacts
Western Europe: Paul Gillies
Phone +44 20 8906 2211
David Semonian
Phone +718 560 5600

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