Armenia: Conscientious objectors abandon substitute service

Forum 18 News Service reported recently on a new wave of sentences against Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors in Armenia. During the cause of the year, 22 Jehovah's Witnesses abandoned their substitute service in protest against it remaining under the control of the ministry of defence. In May, Narek Alaverdyan and Arsen Sevoyan refused to continue their substitute service in the Vardenis Psychiatric Hospital, because they were forced to wear military style uniforms and name badges marked "Armed Forces of the Republic of Armenia", were regularly visited by military police and given degrading work where they were treated as soldiers. Even the food was provided by the military (see co-alert, 19 May 2005). Others followed, and in August alone 13 Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors abandoned substitute service. The first one to be published was Shaliko Sarkissian, who was sentenced to 2 1/2 years imprisonment on 15 September.

Armenia passed a law on substitute service, which came into force on 1 July 2004. The law has been amended by parliament on 22 November and 24 December 2004. According to the law, substitute service is 42 months, and an "alternative military service" - unarmed service within the military - lasts 36 months.

The Armenian law on substitute service does not meet international standards. The length of substitute service has to be considered as punitive, and the service is not genuinely civilian, as - according to the law - the application procedure and "issues related to alternative service" are dealt with by the military. According to article 13, recognised conscientious objectors are assigned to service positions by the Military Conscription Committee, and according to article 14 call-up for substitute service is organised by the military.

Sources: Forum 18 News Service: Armenia: New wave of Jehovah's Witness sentences begins, 23 September 2005

Refusing to bear arms, country report Armenia, revision 2005