Nagorno-Karabakh imprisons Jehovah’s Witnesses of military age who conscientiously object to military service. The government does not recognize this right and makes no provision for alternative civilian service. Thus, young Witnesses are sentenced to prison for living up to their personally held religious convictions not to take up arms against their fellow man.

Efforts to Perform Alternative Civilian Service Fail

On January 29, 2014, the Askeran City Military Commissariat summoned Artur Avanesyan, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to report for military service. The next day, Mr. Avanesyan submitted an application with the Nagorno-Karabakh Military Commissariat requesting to perform alternative civilian service in lieu of military service. His attorney promptly met with officials in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia and made some progress toward allowing Mr. Avanesyan to perform alternative civilian service in Armenia.

Anticipating a positive resolution, Mr. Avanesyan moved to Armenia and filed an application for alternative civilian service with the Republic of Armenia Masis Military Commissariat on February 13, 2014. While hoping to appear before Armenia’s alternative service board, Mr. Avanesyan was instead summoned on July 14, 2014, to report that day to the central police station in Yerevan. When he arrived at the station, police from Nagorno-Karabakh were waiting for him. They arrested him and took him to Nagorno-Karabakh. The next day, he was placed in pretrial detention and arraigned before the Nagorno-Karabakh First Instance Court.

During his arraignment, he learned that four months earlier, the court had issued a warrant for his arrest and an order that he be imprisoned pending trial. The court affirmed its prior ruling, and Mr. Avanesyan was immediately imprisoned. The court rejected all appeals against his pretrial detention.

On September 30, 2014, the court convicted Mr. Avanesyan and sentenced him to a 30-month prison term. The Appeal Court confirmed the ruling. Mr. Avanesyan then appealed to the Supreme Court of Nagorno-Karabakh, but on December 25, 2014, the Court upheld his conviction.

Nagorno-Karabakh continues to imprison young men for adhering to their Bible-trained conscience. In doing so, it rejects international standards that allow conscientious objectors the dignity of performing alternative civilian service.

Time Line

  1. December 25, 2014

    The Supreme Court of Nagorno-Karabakh upholds Artur Avanesyan’s conviction.

  2. September 30, 2014

    Martakert, Nagorno-Karabakh First Instance Court convicts Artur Avanesyan and sentences him to a term of 30 months’ imprisonment.

  3. July 14, 2014

    Artur Avanesyan is arrested in Armenia and sent to Nagorno-Karabakh for pretrial detention.

  4. December 30, 2011

    Karen Harutyunyan, an 18-year-old Witness, is sentenced to 30 months in prison for conscientious objection to military service.

  5. February 16, 2005

    Areg Avanesyan, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is imprisoned for his conscientious objection to military service and sentenced to 48 months in prison.

  6. June 12-13, 2001

    Three Witness conscientious objectors are imprisoned for six months to one year for refusing to participate in military training exercises.