Armenia: Jehovah's Witnesses bring cases to European Court of Human Rights

The situation of conscientious objectors in Armenia will be brought to the European Courts of Human Rights. On 31 May 2006, several Armenian Jehovah's Witnesses submitted an application to the ECHR, complaining that their right to freedom of conscience has been violated by the Armenian implementation of the right to conscientious objection.

Armenia implemented a law on conscientious objection only because this was part of its commitment to the Council of Europe when Armenia was accepted as a member. The law itself does not meet international standards, and the substitute service of conscientious objectors is under the control and supervision of the military, and therefore not "genuinely civilian".

In 2005, several Jehovah's Witnesses who were serving their substitute service left their service when they realised that it was in practice controlled by the military. 15 out of 19 were arrested and held in detention for several months. Eleven were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years to three years and six months imprisonment. Eventually, the convictions were overturned and all objectors were released from prison, but the courts refused to acquit the COs or to terminate the criminal proceedings.

Instead of modifying the law on conscientious objection to turn the substitute service into a genuinely civilian service, amendments that came into force in 2006 allow for the prosecution of conscientious objectors who leave their substitute service.

According to the Jehovah's Witnesses, 28 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah's Witnesses are presently imprisoned for refusing to perform military service or a substitute service controlled by the military.

Source: Jehovah's Witnesses, Office of Public Information: Press Release, 31 May 2006