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Jehovah’s Witnesses

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OCTOBER 16, 2017
ARMENIA

European Court of Human Rights Upholds the Rights of Conscientious Objectors in Armenia

On October 12, 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that four of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia had been unjustly sentenced to prison for refusing to perform alternative service that was under military supervision and control. The ECHR ruled that the four young men had been wrongly convicted because Armenia had failed to provide them with genuine alternative civilian service.

The case, Adyan and Others v. Armenia, involved Artur Adyan, Vahagn Margaryan, Harutyun Khachatryan, and Garegin Avetisyan, who were each convicted in the summer of 2011 to serve two and a half years in prison. The ECHR ruled that the prosecutions and convictions of these young men had violated their right to freedom of conscience and religion as guaranteed by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Convention). Armenia was ordered to pay EUR 12,000 (USD 14,200) to each of the applicants in compensation for the pain and suffering they had experienced.

The young men were convicted shortly after the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia (2011), ruled that the Convention protected the right of conscientious objectors to refuse to perform military service. * With this right now protected, Armenia was required to offer conscientious objectors an alternative to military service. However, Armenia’s alternative service that was available at the time did not comply with international standards because it was under direct control and supervision of the military. The four young men refused this form of alternative service and were imprisoned, as were dozens of their fellow believers. In Adyan, the ECHR ruled that Armenia must provide conscientious objectors with “an alternative to military service of a genuinely civilian nature and one which was not deterrent or punitive in character.”

In late 2013, after the four young men in Adyan were released from prison, Armenia finally implemented a genuine alternative civilian service that is neither supervised nor controlled by the military. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia who are conscientious objectors are no longer imprisoned for obeying their Bible-trained conscience and refusing to perform military service. They greatly appreciate the opportunity to perform genuine alternative service.

^ par. 3 Bayatyan v. Armenia [GC], no. 23459/03, ECHR 2011