ARMENIA: Prosecutors Continue Case 'That Should Never Have Been Brought'.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 21 March 2002

Jehovah's Witness Levon Markaryan is due to face a new hearing at the country's highest appeal court within the next two weeks as prosecutors continue their attempts to imprison him, Markaryan's lawyer told Keston News Service from the Armenian capital Yerevan today (21 March). Rustam Khachatryan reported that the prosecutors' appeal - signed by Koryun Peiloyan and Avak Avakian of the country's general procuracy - was lodged with the Cassation Court in Yerevan on 15 March. "The appeal just repeated the prosecutors' same arguments which have already been rejected by two lower courts," Khachatryan declared. "The last judgment was justified, but they weren't satisfied with it - and they think they can win."

He added that the prosecutors had in particular complained that the specialists they had nominated - including representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a bitter opponent of the Jehovah's Witnesses - had not been called to testify in court.

In a case backed by the National Security Ministry and the former State Council on Religious Affairs (which is now being wound up), prosecutors have been trying to punish Markaryan, a 50-year-old father of four who works at the Medzamor nuclear power station, on charges that date back to the anti-religious persecutions of the Khrushchev era in the early 1960s. Article 244 - which is due to be excluded from the new criminal code now being adopted - punishes leaders of religious groups "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" with a prison sentence of up to five years

Markaryan was found not guilty at his trial last September at the regional court in the town of Armavir near Yerevan, though prosecutors lodged an appeal. This verdict was upheld by the Appeal Court in Yerevan on 7 March, a decision welcomed by the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Yerevan office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Roy Reeve, the head of the OSCE office who was present in court on 7 March, told Keston he was pleased by that verdict and stressed that the OSCE had repeatedly declared that the case should never have been brought in the first place (see KNS 7 March 2002).

No date has yet been set for the new appeal, Khachatryan told Keston. He added that this is the final court within Armenia that the case can go to. As soon as Armenia's ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights is lodged at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, which is expected very soon, believers who consider their rights have been infringed will be entitled to take their cases directly to the Strasbourg court. (END)