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DECEMBER 3, 2012

Armenia Ordered to Pay Damages to 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses

Armenia Ordered to Pay Damages to 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses

STRASBOURG, France—On November 27, 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the government of Armenia must pay 112,000 euros ($145,226) in damages and legal fees to 17 conscientious objectors for human rights violations.

In 2005, 17 young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses were performing alternative civilian service. However, when they realized that it was under the control and supervision of the military, they could no longer continue to serve in good conscience and subsequently left their places of service. They were thereafter arrested and prosecuted. Some were held in pretrial detention for several months, and 11 were eventually sentenced to prison terms from two to three years.

The European Court ruled that these criminal prosecutions and detentions were illegal because in 2005, there was no law in Armenia that made it a crime to abandon alternative civilian service. The Court held that Armenia violated the Witnesses’ right to liberty and security as protected under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the government later dropped the criminal charges against the 17, Armenia refused to compensate them for the unlawful criminal prosecutions and detentions. Therefore, the Court ordered Armenia to pay compensation for moral damages and legal fees.

This judgment comes in the wake of three other European Court rulings against Armenia on the issue of neutrality. In all four cases, the Armenian authorities mistreated conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and unjustly dealt with them as if they were dangerous criminals.

“The judgment rendered by the European Court helps to rectify the injustices suffered by these Jehovah’s Witnesses,” states André Carbonneau, an attorney for the applicants. “This line of victories against Armenia in the European Court sends an unmistakable message to other countries within the Council of Europe as well as countries such as Eritrea, South Korea, and countries in Central Asia regarding the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse military service.”

Media Contacts:

David Semonian, Office of Public Information, tel. +1 718 560 5000

Armenia: Tigran Harutyunyan, tel. +374 93 900 482