KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 20.00, 22 November 2000.
I. ARMENIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS REGISTRATION APPLICATION
STALLED. Despite its pledge to the Council of Europe that it would treat all
religious faiths equally, the Armenian government is still refusing the
Jehovah's Witnesses registration.
II. SLOVAKIA: RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AS FALL-OUT FROM VATICAN
CONCORDAT? Non-Catholic Christian leaders have welcomed the approval
by parliament of an amendment to the law explicitly stating that `all churches
and religious organisations have an equal standing before the law' and allowing
the state to sign separate `mutual co-operation contracts' with any registered
I. ARMENIA: JEHOVAH'S WITNESS REGISTRATION
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
Despite its pledge to the Council of Europe that it would treat all religious
faiths equally, the Armenian government is still refusing the Jehovah's
Witnesses registration. Jehovah's Witness representatives have told Keston
News Service that religious affairs officials have demanded a full list of where
the group holds meetings as well as of their beliefs, something nowhere
specified in Armenia's law on religion. However, the deputy chairman of the
government's Council for Religious Affairs (CRA) categorically denied such
claims. Although recognising Armenia's obligation to the Council of Europe to
register the group - which has been seeking registration in vain since Armenia
regained independence in 1991 - the official cited their rejection of military
service and attitude to preaching as reasons for rejection.
`Nothing is going forward in our application,' declared Arno Tungler, the
Jehovah's Witness representative for the Caucasus, who is based in the
Georgian capital Tbilisi. He told Keston on 10 November that the last meeting
between the Jehovah's Witnesses and CRA officials, at the CRA offices in
Yerevan in October, had been fruitless and there was `no sense' in further
meetings. `Even if we change our charter they told us openly that they would
not register us until there is a law allowing alternative service and until the law
on religion is amended to allow other religious groups [apart from the
Armenian Apostolic Church] to preach.'
Over the summer, the CRA's lawyer had demanded further changes to the
charter, including a description of the group's beliefs and a full list of places of
worship. Tungler declared that as the Jehovah's Witnesses are able to meet only
in private homes because of the lack of registration they were not sure it was
right to give this information. `We fear this information could be misused by
the government.' Raids by the police and National Security Ministry (the ex-
KGB) on their meetings have been common, with a series of raids in April
around the time the Jehovah's Witnesses marked their Memorial of Christ's
death (see KNS 31 May 2000).
However, Eduard Safarian, deputy chairman of the CRA who was present at
the October meeting, categorically denied that his agency had ever demanded a
full list of places of worship. `All we asked was for the address of the group's
headquarters,' he told Keston by telephone from Yerevan on 16 November. He
also denied that the CRA had demanded a list of the group's beliefs.
Despite his assertion that the refusal to register the Jehovah's Witnesses was
`connected solely' with the absence of a law on alternative service (which
Armenia is pledged to adopting as part of its Council of Europe commitments),
Safarian went on to cite a number of other reasons for rejecting their
application. `Their statute must accord with all the country's laws before they
can be registered - and theirs doesn't.' On military service, Safarian claimed
that `some groups write in their statute that their members serve in the army'.
Asked to name any religious group that has incorporated this in its statute,
Safarian spoke vaguely of `some Protestant churches', but was unable to name
any. He was also unable to identify which law made registration contingent on
a group's attitude to military service.
Safarian questioned why the Jehovah's Witnesses had never challenged
rejection of registration in the courts. Despite his earlier statements he claimed
that the CRA will consider any new application as soon as it is received.
`Armenia has obligations in the Council of Europe to register the Jehovah's
Witnesses, but this will take some time.'
Tungler is concerned about the continuing prison sentences against Jehovah's
Witnesses who refuse to serve in the army. `They have returned to the old
pattern: bringing young men to their military unit with violence and then harsh
judgments.' He cited the case of one Witness, who was brutally beaten by
police officers in September in pre-trial detention.
Since the beginning of this year, twenty Witnesses have been sentenced to
imprisonment of up to four and a half years for refusing military service.
Although sentences reduced through the summer, they are again increasing. A
further fourteen have been freed this year after serving some of their sentences
(although they must still report regularly to the police), while a fifteenth was
freed when his tuberculosis worsened. Four more Witnesses, arrested between
August and October, are in prison awaiting trial. All are willing to perform
non-military alternative service. (END)
II. SLOVAKIA: RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AS FALL-OUT FROM
by Kazi Stastna, Keston News Service
Non-Catholic Christian leaders have welcomed the approval by parliament, the
National Council, of an amendment to the law on freedom of religion and the
status of churches and religious organisations explicitly stating that `all
churches and religious organisations have an equal standing before the law' and
allowing the state to sign separate `mutual co-operation contracts' with any of
the registered churches and organisations. However, officials and Christian
leaders have told Keston News Service that the amendment is of a `declarative'
and `preemptive' nature and will not result in any practical changes. Non-
Christian faiths have felt themselves outside the debate (see separate KNS
The `little amendment', which added two new articles to the religion law, was
approved on 31 October and comes into force on 1 January 2001. It was
introduced in parallel with the government's approval of the concordat between
the Slovak state and the Vatican (see separate KNS article), and its raison d'etre
is very much tied to this document.
Churches in Slovakia are governed by the same law, 308/1991, as their
counterparts in the Czech Republic - Slovakia's former partner in the
Czechoslovak federation before the two split in 1993. Similarly to the Czech
Republic, in 1992, the Slovak National Council adopted a law which was
meant to supplement 308/1991 by requiring churches to have a minimum
number of members to qualify for registration by the government. In the Czech
Republic this was set at 10,000, while in Slovakia law 192/1992 outlined it as
20,000. Financing of churches in both countries is still governed by a
Communist-era law dating back to 1949 (218/1949), under which the salaries
of clergy are subsidised by the state.
The declaration that all religious groups are equal before the law was implicit
in the original law and flows from the Slovak Constitution, and thus, as the
director of the Culture Ministry's Department of Churches, Jan Juran, told
Keston News Service by telephone on 9 November, the article has a strictly
`declarative' character and was formulated largely as a reaction to the Vatican
agreement. `Some of the other churches had the feeling that their rights were
being curtailed,' he said, adding that `there was a certain psychological factor
None of the church representatives approached by Keston felt that the 1991 law
was discriminatory but several agreed with the secretary of the Ecumenical
Council, Jan Oslik, who told Keston on 13 November that the law was
`inadequate to a certain degree' in that it did not explicitly mention this equality
But even the Ecumenical Council, which spearheaded the amendment, admits
that the amendment was a `preventive solution_ so that misunderstandings
don't arise'. Asked how the position of churches will change as a result of the
amendment, Oslik declared: `It won't.'
The secretary of the Augsburg Lutheran Church, Daniela Horinkova, sees the
amendment as a `protection for the future' but denies that it came about only as
a reaction to the Vatican concordat: `That equality was always missing there
for us,' she told Keston on 13 November.
However, there is little doubt that the article regarding contracts between
church and state was directly inspired by the concordat. `There was a certain
jealousy among the small churches; they wanted something similar,' Michaela
Moravcikova of the state-funded Institute for Relations between Church and
State told Keston on 13 November.
Asked about the likelihood of non-Catholic churches making such agreements
with the state, Oslik said that it was small but depended on how the political
situation in the country developed and especially what stance the state took on
financing of churches.
Undoubtedly, the issue of financing was one of the main driving forces behind
both the Vatican concordat and the amendment. Amid debates about separation
of church and state, the possible abolition of law 218/1949 and the
government's intention to reduce funding of church schools, both Catholic and
non-Catholic churches are looking to cover themselves pre-emptively.
Juran of the Culture Ministry admitted it is hard to predict the exact form of the
contracts that the government and churches may sign, but that they could
include co-operation on charitable and social work - for example, with the
Romani population. Three churches have expressed interest in such contracts:
the Lutheran Church, the Old Catholic Church and the Adventists.
The Lutheran Church and the Adventists confirmed to Keston that they had
begun to prepare contract proposals, which were likely to touch on financing,
the church's role in the school system and freedom to practice without state
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