KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 10 July 2001.=20
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist=20
and post-communist lands.

JEHOVAH'S WITNESS. A Jehovah's Witness from the town of Medzamor=20
faces trial on charges dating back to the times of the anti-religious
led by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Article 244 Part 1 of the=20
Criminal Code, introduced around 1960, carries a sentence of up to five=20
years' imprisonment. The investigator who led the investigation confirmed to=
Keston News Service that the charges had been brought because children=20
had attended Jehovah's Witness meetings in Medzamor, denying defence=20
claims that parents had signed documents allowing their children to attend.=


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A Jehovah's Witness from the town of Medzamor close to the capital=20
Yerevan is due to face trial in about ten day's time on charges dating back
the times of the anti-religious campaign led by then Soviet leader Nikita=20
Khrushchev. A case against Levon Markaryan was instituted under Article=20
244 Part 1 of the Criminal Code, an article introduced in the Soviet
around 1960 and which punishes `infringement of the person and rights of=20
citizens under the guise of performing religious rituals' with a sentence
of up=20
to five years' imprisonment. Senior investigator Andranik Sahakyan, who led=
the investigation, confirmed to Keston News Service that the charges had=20
been brought because children had attended Jehovah's Witness meetings in=20
Medzamor, but denied defence claims that parents had signed documents=20
allowing their children to attend. `There are no such documents,' he=

Markaryan has been specifically accused of `enticing' minors into a group=20
`whose activity, carried on under the guise of preaching religious doctrines=
and performing religious rituals, is connected with causing harm to=
health or with other infringements of the person and rights of citizens'.
article has been removed from the criminal code in other post-Soviet=20
republics (it was removed from the Russian criminal code in 1991).

The criminal case was instituted against the 50-year-old Markaryan on 23=20
March, his lawyer Rustam Khachatryan told Keston from Yerevan on 6 July.=20
Sahakyan confirmed that the case has already been handed over to the=20
Armavir regional court, and Malvei Simonyan, the judge at the court who=20
will hear the case, told Keston the hearing is likely to take place around=

Simonyan confirmed that the article was introduced in the Soviet Armenian=20
code in 1961, admitting openly it was a `Khrushchevite' article which had=20
made it unchanged into the new criminal code. He confirmed the punishment=20
could be up to five years' imprisonment `or exile', he added with an ironic=
laugh. Asked where someone found guilty would be exiled to, he declared:=20
`Away from their place of residence. But that provision has fallen into=20
disuse.' He declined to comment on Markaryan's case ahead of the trial, but=
confirmed he was at liberty pending the hearing.

Speaking to Keston from Armavir on 10 July, Sahakyan initially claimed not=
to remember the case. However, he later insisted that the presence of=20
children at Jehovah's Witness meetings had been illegal. Asked which law=20
banned the attendance of children, he said the 1997 religion law banned all=
children under the age of 18. Asked why children were often seen at=20
Armenian Apostolic Church services and services of other faiths, he claimed=
that this provision applied only because the Jehovah's Witnesses are=20
unregistered in Armenia (they have been denied registration on numerous=20
occasions since Armenia gained independence in 1991 though Armenia's=20
Council of Europe obligations - which the government has ignored -=20
committed the country to lifting the ban on their registration - see KNS 16=
January 2001). Sahakyan then went on to claim that without registration, all=
Jehovah's Witness meetings are illegal, although he was unable to specify an=
article of the religion law that laid this down.

Khachatryan claimed that the whole premise of the case was unjust.=20
`Jehovah's Witness parents come to the meetings with their children,' he=
Keston. `They are Jehovah's Witnesses and so are their children. All the=
they are there with their parents.' He said the parents had signed=
specifically allowing their children to be present during meetings. `There
no reasons for the accusations.'

`What the lawyer says is not quite true,' Sahakyan told Keston on being=20
informed of the defence claims. `They didn't present any documents with the=
signatures of parents. Maybe they created them later.' He vigorously=
suggestions Article 244 was a Soviet-era hangover. `Why Khrushchevite?=20
It's still valid.' He denied that the case against Markaryan represented an=
attempt to intimidate the Jehovah's Witnesses. `It is not persecution,' he=
declared. `One hundred percent not. There is full proof of guilt.' (END)=20

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