KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 6 February 2001

I. ARMENIA `IGNORES' COUNCIL OF EUROPE OBLIGATIONS. Armenia
is continuing its policy of arresting and sentencing conscientious objectors,
despite its commitment to the Council of Europe to free them before a new law
introducing alternative service is adopted. The imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses
will only be freed when the new law is adopted � a decision which violates
Armenia�s commitments, according to Council of Europe officials.

II. ARMENIA: WHEN WILL ALTERNATIVE SERVICE LAW BE
ADOPTED? Although Armenia is committed under its Council of Europe
obligations to adopting an alternative service law within three years, Armenian
government officials declare that the law is likely to be adopted within the next
year and a half.

I. ARMENIA `IGNORES' COUNCIL OF EUROPE OBLIGATIONS

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Despite its commitment to the Council of Europe to free all imprisoned
conscientious objectors ahead of the adoption of a new law introducing
alternative service, Armenia has continued its policy of arresting and sentencing
conscientious objectors. Armenian justice ministry officials have told Keston
News Service that the imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses will only be freed when
the new law is adopted (see separate KNS article) and the country will continue
to imprison conscientious objectors until then. Politicians and senior officials at
the Council of Europe have told Keston that such an interpretation of Armenia's
obligations violates the letter and spirit of the country's commitments made in
advance of accession and that the continued sentencing and failure to free those
in prison will be a `key issue' on the first visit by the Council's monitoring
committee rapporteurs.

Rustam Khachatryan, a Jehovah's Witness lawyer, told Keston from Yerevan
on 6 February that Karen Yegoyan was sentenced to two years' imprisonment
for refusing military service on 1 February - a week after Armenia's accession
to the Council of Europe on 25 January. He is now serving his term in
Sovetashen prison. A further four young Jehovah's Witness men have been
arrested since the accession and are now awaiting trial. `Everything is
continuing as before,' Khachatryan declared. `They are just ignoring the
Council of Europe commitments. I know for certain our prisoners will not be
released.' He reported that as of now, 23 Witnesses are serving sentences in
prison, 14 are now at home but have to report regularly to the police, and two
are due to go on trial in addition to the four just arrested.

Gayane Abrahamian, spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry, denied that the
policy of continuing sentencing represented a violation of Armenia's Council of
Europe commitments. `Until the law on alternative service is adopted,' she
declared by telephone from Yerevan on 6 February, `the law on military service
which requires men to conduct military service still applies. The Criminal Code
spells out the punishment for those who fail to conduct military service.' Asked
if that meant that conscientious objectors will still be sentenced and imprisoned
despite Armenia's Council of Europe commitments, she declared: `This is the
current law.'

Asked how a policy of continued sentencing squared with its new
commitments, which Armenia knew about as early as spring 2000, Abrahamian
declared: `They must be sentenced under current law.' Abrahamian claimed that
adopting the new law and releasing the prisoners `in parallel' did not violate the
commitments.

However, senior politicians and officials of the Council of Europe strongly
disagree. `My personal interpretation of the commitments is that "in the
meantime" means now,' one senior official told Keston from Strasbourg. `I
cannot see anyone interpreting this differently.' Asked whether freeing of the
prisoners at the same time as adoption of a new law would meet the
commitments, the official responded: `That's not "in the meantime".' The
official stressed that the continued sentencing `violates the spirit of Armenia's
accession'.

Another senior official - who also preferred not to be named - agreed. `It is not
my understanding that the release of the imprisoned conscientious objectors can
wait for the adoption of the alternative service law,' the official told Keston
from Strasbourg.

Council of Europe politicians and officials stress that Armenia's record on the
imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses will be `one of the key issues' of the
monitoring of its commitments, which began immediately on accession. `On 7
March the monitoring committee is due to appoint two rapporteurs on
Armenia,' Mateo Sorinas, director of the political and legal affairs department,
told Keston from Strasbourg on 6 February. `Immediately afterwards the
rapporteurs will visit Armenia and will go through its obligations with the
Armenian authorities point by point. All commitments will be examined - and
the question of imprisoned conscientious will be one of them.'

Terry Davis, a member of the British parliament and chairman of the political
affairs committee, told Keston that Armenia's treatment of conscientious
objectors would be on the `immediate agenda' of the monitoring committee's
rapporteurs.

Abrahamian said the imprisoned conscientious objectors could only be
amnestied if parliament passed an amnesty law. However, Artak Ghazarian,
spokesman for the parliament in Yerevan, told Keston on 6 February that an
amnesty would have to be initiated by the president and then be approved by
parliament, adding that parliament has received no information that an amnesty
is being prepared. Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told Keston on 6
February that he was not aware of any immediate plans to amnesty the
conscientious objectors. (END)


II. ARMENIA: WHEN WILL ALTERNATIVE SERVICE LAW BE
ADOPTED?

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Although Armenia is committed under its Council of Europe obligations to
adopting an alternative service law within three years, Armenian government
officials declare that the law is likely to be adopted within the next year and a
half.

Gayane Abrahamian, spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry. told Keston News
Service from Yerevan that the government is working `very intensively' on the
draft, while Artak Ghazarian, spokesman for the parliament in Yerevan, told
Keston that a working group has already been formed in parliament. `The bill
will be debated in parliament before the end of this year,' he reported, `and will
be adopted by early next year,' Ghazarian announced. Asked what would
happen if deputies refuse to adopt it, he responded: `They will.'

The defence ministry, which previously opposed any alternative service law,
has now changed its mind. Defence minister Serj Sarkisian told a Yerevan press
conference on 29 January that the law will be adopted by next year, adding that
the `main clauses' have already been worked out. (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.

Subscription payments directly help religious freedom, as we cannot provide
this material unless we have income. Please refer potentially interested
colleagues and friends to our website http://www.keston.org/ which has recent
KNS articles and details of our other publications: the magazine 'Frontier' and
the academic journal 'Religion, State & Society'.