ARMENIA: Prosecutors Pursue Case Against Acquitted Jehovah's Witness.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 11 October 2001

Despite his acquittal last month by the regional court in the town of Armavir near Yerevan, Jehovah’s Witness Levon Markaryan is set to face a new hearing as prosecutors continue their attempt to send him to jail. Markaryan’s lawyer Rustam Khachatryan told Keston News Service from the Armenian capital on 11 October that prosecutors Sedrak Minasyan and Karlen Hovhanisyan lodged an appeal against the acquittal at the Appeal Court in Yerevan on 3 October. ‘No date has yet been fixed, but we expect a hearing within the next weeks,’ Khachatryan declared. Keston contacted the prosecutor’s office in Armavir on 11 October, but Minasyan declined to come to the telephone to explain why he and his colleague had decided to appeal against the acquittal.

An official of the appeal court chancellery in Yerevan told Keston on 11 October that the prosecution appeal had reached the court but the case file had not. ‘Only once we get the file will the court chairman select the judge to hear the case, and then the judge will name the date for the hearing,’ the official declared.

Markaryan, a 50-year-old father of four who works at the Medzamor nuclear power station, was accused under Article 244 of the Criminal Code of ‘enticing’ minors into a group ‘whose activity, carried on under the guise of preaching religious doctrines and performing religious rituals, is connected with causing harm to citizens’ health or with other infringements of the person and rights of citizens’. The article carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. The prosecution - as well as the National Security Ministry (the former KGB) and the government’s committee for religious affairs, which were both involved in the case - objected to the presence of children at Jehovah’s Witness meetings in the town of Medzamor and the fact that members of the community declined to conduct military service on the grounds of conscience.

In the wake of Markaryan’s acquittal on 18 September, the Yerevan office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe welcomed the verdict and argued that the case should never have been brought in the first place (see KNS 19 September 2001).

‘The prosecutors were very cunning,’ Khachatryan declared, ‘lodging the appeal right at the deadline, hoping we would not notice. However, we were watching closely.’ He told Keston that although the Jehovah’s Witnesses expected the prosecutors to appeal against the acquittal, they believed there were no grounds. ‘Everything has already been covered at the first hearing and Levon was acquitted. There is no basis to the accusation.’ Khachatryan reported that he had already lodged an objection with the appeal court against the further proceedings, though he was not optimistic that the appeal court would reject the appeal without a hearing.

Khachatryan declared that Markaryan took the news of the appeal calmly. ‘He had expected it. He says he is not guilty, so they can’t do anything to him.’

The investigation of Markaryan under Article 244 - a provision which dates back to the anti-religious persecutions under then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev - began in November last year. The criminal case was instituted in March. In the wake of the acquittal, Markaryan had complained to Keston that the case against him had already been dragging on for nearly a year. ‘The prosecutors won’t leave it and we expect the case to go to the end,’ Khachatryan declared. (END)