Religious minority faces discrimination in Armenia

John Martirosyan, who was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector

John Martirosyan, who was imprisoned for being a conscientious objector

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16 January 2008

Jehovah's Witnesses in Armenia face discrimination and imprisonment because of their beliefs, according to a new Amnesty International report.

Many young men in the religious organization are jailed because their faith prohibits them from doing military service, while others have been attacked - including allegedly by supporters of the country's dominant religious group.

"Young male Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be imprisoned. Since there is no alternative civilian service in Armenia, Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release," said Laurence Broers, Amnesty International's researcher on Armenia.

There are an estimated 9,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia. They have been subjected to an apparently increasing number of attacks since they gained more prominence in 2004, following their registration as a religious organization (after a series of rejections). Amnesty International is concerned at the authorities' reported failure to fully investigate and prosecute these clear human rights abuses.

The violence has coincided with increased friction with the Armenian Apostolic Church, to which around 90 per cent of the population formally belongs.

"The Armenian authorities are ignoring the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses are specifically targeted for attacks, including allegedly by representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church," said Laurence Broers.

As a Council of Europe member, Armenia is obliged to provide a genuinely civilian alternative to compulsory military service. But Armenia’s alternative service is still under the control of the military, making it incompatible with the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others. As of 26 September 2007, there were 82 Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors in Armenia.

"All those wrongly imprisoned must be released immediately and receive adequate compensation. The Armenian authorities must also ensure that they are not denied documents necessary for them to enjoy full rights as civilians – including the right to freedom of movement and the rights to entry into public sector employment or marriage," Laurence Broers said.

Armenia: Fear of the freedom of conscience and religion: violations of the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses

Index Number: EUR 54/001/2008
Date Published: 16 January 2008
Categories: Armenia

Amnesty International is concerned that Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be victims of human rights violations in Armenia, despite the country’s obligations under international human rights law to respect and protect the right to freedom of conscience and religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia also face violations of the rights to liberty and security of the person; to not be discriminated against and to legal remedy. This report lays out Amnesty International’s concerns relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia.

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