Armenia: Jehovah's Witnesses abused and discriminated against for their beliefs

Jehovah's Witnesses face increasing levels of discrimination and abuse in Armenia, and are being beaten and imprisoned for their beliefs, according to Amnesty International.

In a report published today entitled Armenia: Fear of the freedom of conscience and religion: violations of the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses, Amnesty International highlights its concern about the increasing levels of discrimination and physical assault which members of the religious organisation have faced in the country.

Central to these concerns are the issues of conscientious objection and the failure to successfully prosecute those who carry out the attacks on members of this religious group.

As of 26 September 2007 there were 82 Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors in Armenia.

This is in direct violation of their rights to freedom of expression, conscience and liberty,

Amnesty International’s Armenia Researcher, Laurence Broers, said:
"Young male Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be imprisoned in ever larger numbers and for longer periods because their beliefs prohibit them from performing military service.

“Since there is no genuinely civilian alternative service in Armenia at present, Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

Armenia has undertaken the obligation to provide a genuinely civilian alternative to compulsory military service for those whose beliefs do not allow them to take up arms. However, Armenia’s alternative service is still under the control of the military, making it incompatible with the conscientiously-held beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.

Laurence Broers said.
"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, for which passports are required, and the rights to entry into public sector employment or marriage."

Both verbal and physical attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses – of which there are estimated to be 9,000 in Armenia – have seemingly been on the rise since 2004 when the religious group expanded its activities after registration as a religious organisation.

Amnesty International is also concerned that the failure of police to investigate fully and impartially and, where appropriate, prosecute such human rights violations, sends the signal that assaults and wider discrimination are permissible.

Laurence Broers said:
"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. Acknowledging the discriminatory aspect to these attacks is a necessary step toward countering discrimination and impunity."

Amnesty International urges the Armenian authorities to:
Introduce a genuinely civilian and non-punitive alternative to compulsory military service;
Ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and prosecution of physical attacks as a step to end impunity with regard to physical assaults against Jehovah's Witnesses;
Ensure that the Jehovah's Witnesses and other registered religious groups can exercise their rights without discrimination or hindrance.

Background
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active in Armenia since 1975. They first requested legal registration as a religious organisation in 1995 and after being rejected about 15 times, they were finally registered in 2004.

Aspects of the organisation’s activities in Armenia have become a source of friction with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the leading religious denomination in the country. Approximately 90 per cent of the population are members, at least formally, of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Constitution as amended by referendum in 2005 recognises “the exclusive historical mission of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church as a national church”, while the 1991 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organisations grants the Armenian Apostolic Church official status as the national church.

  • read the report

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