ArmeniaNow.com reported today that seven Jehovah's Witnesses have been sentenced to prison terms between 24 months and 36 months for the refusal to continue serving in a substitute service controlled ultimately by the Ministry of Defence.
Narek Alaverdyan (ARM14733) and Arsen Sevoyan (ARM14734), who in 2005 began their substitute service in the Mental Hospital of Kapan, refused to continue their service in May 2005 (see co-alert, 19 May 2005). Both were sentenced now sentenced on charges of "organised absence without leave from the place of service" to two years' imprisonment.
Shaliko Sarsgyan (ARM14935), who originally served his substitute service in the Yerevan Infection Hospital, was sentenced to two years and eight months imprisonment on charges of desertion.
Arthur Chilingarov (ARM14936), Gagik Davtyan (ARM14937), Vagharshak Margaryan (ARM14938) and Boris Melkonyan (ARM14939) were charged with "organised group desertion", punishable by imprisonment of 4-10 years. However, during the course of the trial the prosecutor mitigated the charge to "organised absence without leave" and demanded a sentence of 3 years and six months imprisonment. The judge sentenced all four to three years' imprisonment. All four were serving in the Sevan Mental Hospital from December 2004 until 18 May 2005, where the service was supervised by military police. On 2 May 2005, they submitted an application about their refusal to continue to serve to the director of the hospital. On 18 May 2005, they left the hospital, because the director locked them out of their rooms. They were arrested in August 2005, and kept in custody since.
According to ArmeniaNow.com, fifteen others are still awaiting their verdicts.
In all seven cases, when they began their substitute service, the Armenian law on substitute service did not include any provision for punishment for refusing substitute service. 15 days after they began their service the law was amended, and a provision was introduced that specified that punishment would be according to the regulations for conscripts. Accordingly, when they refused to continue their substitute service, the investigation was first undertaken by a military prosecutor, and then by a civil prosecutor.
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.
More information on Armenia: Refusing to bear arms, country report Armenia, revision 2005
War Resisters' International calls for protest letters to the Armenian authorities, and Armenian embassies abroad. A protest email can be sent at http://wri-irg.org/co/alerts/20071115a.html.
War Resisters' International calls for the immediate release of all imprisoned conscientious objectors.
War Resisters' International
Archives of co-alert can be found at http://wri-irg.org/news/alerts