For Immediate Release
April 11, 2007
European Court to consider important case on conscientious objection in Armenia
YEREVAN, Armenia—On December 12, 2006, a young man’s claim that the Republic of Armenia violated his freedom of conscience and religion was declared admissible by the European Court of Human Rights.
Vahan Bayatyan is one of many young Jehovah’s Witnesses prosecuted and imprisoned in Armenia for refusing to violate their Bible-trained consciences by participation in any form of military service. After he was sentenced to a prison term of one and a half years by the trial judge, the Prosecutor appealed asking for a harsher sentence, claiming that Mr. Bayatyan’s conscientious objection was “unfounded and dangerous.” The Court of Appeal acquiesced, increasing the prison term by one year. This decision was confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Having exhausted all domestic remedies, Mr. Bayatyan filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights. In his application, he asked the Court to reconsider its past jurisprudence regarding conscientious objectors and bring it in line with the current policy of the Council of Europe which requires new member states to recognize the right of conscientious objectors. In its admissibility decision, the European Court has accepted to examine this question. If Mr. Bayatyan is successful and the Court does recognize the right of conscientious objectors under Article 9 of the Convention, this will be a groundbreaking decision as it will be a major shift in the Court’s jurisprudence.
When Armenia joined the Council of Europe, it had taken a formal commitment to stop prosecuting conscientious objectors, to pardon those who were serving prison terms and to adopt a law on alternative civilian service. Instead of fulfilling these obligations, Armenia continues to prosecute and imprison conscientious objectors. Currently there are more than 60 conscientious objectors serving prison terms. Governmental authorities have even hardened their position recently by increasing prison terms for conscientious objectors and by refusing parole to 25 young Witnesses serving their prison terms. Even after serving prison sentences, punishment effectively continues for conscientious objectors since in many cases, the authorities refuse to give (or return) passport and registration documents upon their release, negatively impacting their opportunities for education and employment.
While Armenia did adopt a law on alternative labor service in 2004, this law, according to a recent Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution, is not “in compliance with European Standards.” Conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are not accepting this alternative service, since it is under military control and supervision.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600