KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 20.00, 26 July 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.

18-year-old Jehovah's Witness who rejected allegations in court on 20 July
that Levon Markaryan had forced him to reject military service, has himself
been arrested. Jehovah's Witness sources told Keston News Service that
Aram Shahverdyan was arrested in Medzamor on 25 July on charges of
`evasion of military service', saying that this might be an attempt to prevent
him testifying for the defence when Markaryan's trial resumes on 2 August.
A witness for the prosecution in that trial admitted in court that a National
Security Ministry officer dictated part of her written statement.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Aram Shahverdyan, an 18-year-old Jehovah's Witness who rejected the
prosecutor's allegations in court last Friday (20 July) that Levon Markaryan
had forced him to reject military service, has himself been arrested.
Jehovah's Witness sources told Keston News Service that Shahverdyan was
arrested in Medzamor on 25 July on charges of `evasion of military service'.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe the arrest might be an attempt to prevent
witnesses for the defence testifying when Markaryan's trial resumes on 2
August. The Yerevan office of the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) � which sent observers to Markaryan's trial -
told Keston on 26 July that they would investigate this latest development.

The investigator in Shahverdyan's case, Melik-Sarkisyan (first name
unknown) told Jehovah's Witnesses on 25 July that Shahverdyan had been
arrested `in the normal way' and promised that he would not be mistreated
while in detention. He is currently being held in Armavir police prison.

At the trial of Markaryan, which began on 20 July at the Armavir regional
court, Shahverdyan stressed that he was responsible for his own decision to
reject military service and had not been pressured by Markaryan. He related
that when call-up officials questioned him about his refusal, he was coerced
into writing and signing a statement accusing Markaryan of advising him not
to join the army. `That statement did not contain my thoughts,' he told the
court. `I studied the Bible and made my own conscientious decision on this

Prosecutors alleged that Markaryan `enticed' minors into attending meetings
of an `unregistered religion' in the town of Medzamor close to Yerevan and
`influenced' members not to serve in the army (see KNS 10 July 2001). If
convicted, he faces up to five years in prison under Article 244 part 1 of the
criminal code, a provision introduced at the time of the anti-religious
campaign led by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the early 1960s.
The article has been abolished from the criminal codes of other former
Soviet republics.

The Jehovah's Witnesses have alleged that the National Security Ministry,
the former KGB, has `fabricated evidence' against Markaryan in a bid to
obstruct the group's eventual registration, which has been blocked in
Armenia for the past decade. They point out that Markaryan is one of the
committee trying to negotiate the terms of registration with the authorities,
and believe that if he gets a criminal record the National Security Ministry
will be able to use this as an excuse to veto registration.

Lilia Kazaryan, one of the prosecution witnesses, admitted in court that a
National Security Ministry officer, whom she named as Vahan, dictated part
of her written statement which alleges that `Jehovah's Witnesses are against
our government and our religion'. She confessed to not knowing any
Jehovah's Witnesses personally, and added, `I heard from state television
that they kill themselves'.

Five other prosecution witnesses failed to attend the hearing, prompting
judge Mamvel Simonyan to adjourn the trial.

Four young people between the ages of 14-18 testified that they attend
Jehovah's Witness meetings along with their parents. `Meetings are a
pleasure,' 16-year-old Igor Vlasiuk told the court. `I go because I love
Jehovah God. I don't want to be in the streets fighting with other boys. At
meetings we study the Bible and learn respect for the government and for
people of other religions.'

Markaryan, a 50-year-old father of three, works at the nuclear power station
at Medzamor, and fears that if convicted he will lose his job there. However,
his lawyer, Rustam Khachatryan, is optimistic. `We believe he will be freed,'
he told Keston from Yerevan on 23 July. `There are no reasons for
sentencing him.' He alleged that Eduard Safaryan, the deputy chairman of
the government's Council for Religious Affairs which has consistently
opposed the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses, gave the National
Security Ministry information about Markaryan that prompted the case
against him.

Keston tried to contact the National Security Ministry to find out if it was
behind the moves to prosecute Markaryan, as appears to be the case from the
testimony adduced in court, and if so, why, but the telephone of Armenak
Manukyan, the ministry's spokesman in Yerevan, went unanswered on 25
and 26 July. Jehovah's Witness sources have told Keston that an officer of
the Armavir regional national security office, Colonel G. Seyranyan, is
behind the moves, but Keston has been unable to verify this report. Keston
has also been unable to verify the identity of the officer named by Kazaryan
in court as `Vahan'.

Christine Mardirossian, human rights officer at the OSCE office in Yerevan,
told Keston on 26 July that she and a colleague had attended the morning
session of Markaryan's trial. She said the OSCE is following the case `very
closely' and that the OSCE ambassador, Roy Reeve, had taken up the case
verbally with the head of the Europe desk at the foreign ministry ahead of
the trial. `The foreign ministry made no commitments about the case,'
Mardirossian declared, `although it took note of our interest.'

Dziunik Agadjanian, spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, confirmed that
the OSCE had approached the foreign ministry, but appeared to downplay it.
`It was a simple oral notification that the trial was beginning and that the
OSCE would be attending,' she told Keston by telephone from Yerevan on
26 July. `That was all.' She was dismissive about Armenia's failure to abide
by its commitments on entering the Council of Europe last January that
conscientious objectors would be freed, sentencing of conscientious
objectors would halt and that the Jehovah's Witnesses would be registered as
a religious organisation. `We have already answered this question many
times, so there is nothing new to add,' she declared. `Many countries have
difficulties with the Jehovah's Witnesses.'

Mardirossian told Keston bluntly that Armenia `had not implemented its
Council of Europe commitments'. She pointed out that even the recent
prisoner amnesty to mark the 1,700th anniversary of Armenia's adoption of
Christianity as the state religion had failed to free any conscientious
objectors. `Conscientious objectors were excluded from the amnesty,' she
declared. `The government could have made this gesture, but didn't. It is not
following a good track.'

Asked about whether Article 244 should remain in the criminal code,
Mardirossian declared that although the OSCE has no `formal position', it
believed `of course' that the article as currently formulated was inappropriate
and `has to be changed'. `The article allows a lot of room for violations and
restrictions of the rights of believers,' she declared. `This has been proved
during Markaryan's trial.' She said the OSCE would be seeking information
from the Interior Ministry whether it is planning to abolish the article or not.

Although he believes Markaryan will be acquitted, Khachatryan remains
concerned about the implications of the case: `If this prosecution proves
successful, no Jehovah's Witness in Armenia will be safe from prosecution
and imprisonment.' (END)

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