SEPTEMBER 27, 2018
On September 18, 2015, a court in Slovakia acquitted Martin Boor, who had been criminally charged for his stand as a conscientious objector. The decision came 90 years after Brother Boor’s conviction, making the exoneration the oldest judicial case in Slovakia in which a conviction for conscientious objection was annulled.
Courageous Stand Leads to Conviction
Martin became an active participant of the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were known at the time, in 1920 when he was 17 years old. In October 1924, he was drafted into the army. His faith moved him to refuse participation in any military activities or to take the military oath. As a result, officials questioned his mental state and ordered a psychiatric evaluation. Brother Boor was found to be mentally sound—to quote the examiners: his “religious convictions do not rest upon ill imaginations.”
Since Martin was in sound mental health, on April 2, 1925, the court decided that his refusal to join the army was a serious crime. This young married man bravely faced the court sentence pronounced on him: two years of imprisonment and harsh measures that included solitary confinement and food deprivation. However, Martin did not have to serve his full term in prison. On August 13, 1926, he was released on probation for good behavior.
ECHR Decision Sets the Stage for Exoneration
Brother Boor died on January 7, 1985. His surviving family members first filed to exonerate him in 2004 to no avail. Seven years later, they requested that the County Court Bratislava I renew the proceedings after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in the landmark case of Bayatyan v. Armenia, ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights protects conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, despite the solid legal basis for overturning Martin’s conviction, the request for exoneration languished in domestic courts without success. It would take another conscientious objector to spark real change.
A Crucial Precedent: The Vajda Case
Like Martin Boor, Imrich Vajda was also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had refused military service. He had been sentenced in 1959 and 1961 under the Communist regime. On March 13, 2014, the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic ruled that he should be exonerated on the basis of Czechoslovak Law No. 119/1990 Coll. on judicial rehabilitation (exoneration)—a law specifically intended to address convictions from the Communist era. In the case of Imrich Vajda, the Constitutional Court expressed for the first time its view on how specifically Slovakia must apply the ECHR judgment in Bayatyan by acknowledging that amnesty or restitution is a necessary legal measure for those convicted as criminals for conscientious objection to military service.
The positive decision in the Vajda case was the key precedent that allowed an application to the County Court Bratislava I to be submitted requesting that Martin Boor be fully acquitted of his conviction. The court validated the proposal on September 18, 2015. Thus, 90 years after his conviction and 30 years after his death, Martin Boor was acquitted of any crime as a conscientious objector.
The ECHR judgment in Bayatyan and the Constitutional Court’s decision in the Vajda case have thus helped to correct a long-standing injustice. To date, 51 of Jehovah’s Witnesses—most of whom were sentenced from 1948 to 1989—have been completely exonerated by Slovakian courts.