I. ARMENIAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IMPRISONED FOR REFUSING MILITARY SERVICE
II. GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT AND ORTHODOX CHURCH WORK TOWARDS CONCORDAT
III. FURTHER HEAVY FINES FOR UZBEK ADVENTISTS
Tuesday 10 August
ARMENIAN JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES IMPRISONED FOR REFUSING MILITARY SERVICE
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
A total of nine Jehovah's Witnesses are known to be serving sentences in Armenia for refusing military service on grounds of conscience, according to information from MIKAEL DANIELYAN of the Helsinki Association of Armenia. One of those who has been imprisoned was not even eligible for military service as he is a refugee.
Armenia does not currently have a law on alternative service, and those refusing military service on religious or other conscientious grounds are liable to prosecution under the criminal code. Article 75 punishes evading the call-up to military service, where an individual is tried as a civilian. Article 255 punishes desertion and Article 257 punishes evading military service, both offences once an individual is already deemed to be conducting military service and therefore carrying heavier penalties.
The nine prisoners are:
GUGEN SEVOYAN, born 1979, from Vardenik in Gegarkunik region, sentenced on 25 June 1999 to one year six months' imprisonment under Article 75 of the Criminal Code. He is now in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region.
GAGIK OHANYAN, born 1979, from Yerevan, sentenced on 23 June 1999 to three years' imprisonment under Article 257 of the Criminal Code. He is soon to be transferred to Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region.
GRIGOR DAYAN, born 1975, from Yerevan, sentenced on 18 May 1999 to one year and five months' imprisonment under Article 75 of the Criminal Code. He is serving his sentence in Sovetashen labour camp, Yerevan. This is his second sentence.
RUSLAN OHANJANYAN, born 1980, from Kapan region, sentenced on 21 April 1999 to one year's imprisonment under Article 75 of the Criminal Code. He is in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region. The appeal court heard his case on 28 June 1999 and upheld the sentence. Although a refugee (he holds refugee certificate No. 019311), the appeal court ignored this. His father has appealed to THOMAS BIRATH, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees residential coordinator for Armenia in Yerevan, for a letter of protection certifying that as a refugee Ohanjanyan should not be conscripted, but has not yet received any response. Birath declined to comment to Keston News Service on the case, citing confidentiality of the individuals concerned, but indicated that his office would be keeping Ohanjanyan's father informed of action taken.
ARTUR MARTIROSYAN, born 1974, from Yerevan, sentenced on 16 March 1999 to two years' imprisonment under Article 75 of the Criminal Code. He is now in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region.
ARMEN ASOYAN, born 1976, from Yerevan, sentenced on 9 January 1999 to three years' imprisonment under Article 255 of the Criminal Code. He is now in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region.
KAREN VOSKANYAN, born 1980, from Yerevan, sentenced on 8 September 1998 to three years' imprisonment under Article 257 of the Criminal Code after refusing to swear the military oath. He is serving his sentence in a punishment battalion located in Sevan, Gegarkunik region.
ARTUR STEPANYAN, born 1976, from Yerevan, sentenced on 16 June 1998 to three years six months' imprisonment under Article 255 of the Criminal Code. He is now in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region.
SAMVEL MANUKYAN, born 1976, from Yerevan, sentenced on 15 July 1997 to three years' imprisonment under Article 255 of the Criminal Code. He is now in Kosh labour camp, Aragatsotn region. He ran away after being forcibly conscripted and was taken by force to a military unit in Vanadzor.
Since Armenia became independent in 1991 there has been a steady stream of young men - all known cases being Jehovah's Witnesses - being imprisoned for refusing to join the army. A number of young men sentenced under Article 75 were reportedly freed in the wake of an amnesty declared by the National Assembly on 15 September 1998. However, it seems that Manukyan, Voskanyan and Stepanyan were not eligible for early release or reduction of the sentence.
There has been intermittent discussion since independence of introducing a law on alternative service, but little concrete progress. The office of President ROBERT KOCHARYAN claimed earlier in the year that it was working on a draft law, but so far there has been nothing to show for it.
The Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal to conduct military service has been constantly cited by the Armenian authorities as the reason for refusing the group official registration as a religious organisation. (END)
Tuesday 10 August
GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT AND ORTHODOX CHURCH WORK TOWARDS CONCORDAT
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
The Georgian government and the Patriarchate of the Georgian Orthodox Church have drawn up a draft of an agreement, or concordat, that is set to regulate relations between the two. The agreement is likely to be signed in September or October, PAATA ZAKAREISHVILI, a staff member of the parliamentary human rights committee, told Keston News Service from Tbilisi on 10 August.
KONSTANTIN KOKOYEV, chairman of the parliamentary human rights committee, said in July that the text of the draft agreement - completed earlier that month - had been agreed between the Patriarchate, the government and parliament and would eventually be signed by President EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE and Catholicos-Patriarch ILIA II. The text was not made public.
Zakareishvili believes the timing of the agreement is significant. `If a decision is taken on a visit by Pope JOHN PAUL II to Georgia, then at about the same time the government would like to sign an agreement with the Orthodox Church so that it could thereafter sign a similar agreement with the Catholic Church.'
No firm plans for a papal visit to Georgia have yet been agreed, but parliamentary speaker ZURAB ZHVANIA, who met the Pope on 7 July, said the pontiff had expressed his intention to visit the country. The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal ANGELO SODANO, told Zhvania that the Vatican is planning for the visit to take place before the end of this year.
Zakareishvili does not believe the agreement between the government and the Orthodox Church would be controversial. `The agreement with the Orthodox Church itself does not envisage any change in the status of this Church. It is due only to regulate the relationship between the church and the state. Other religious groups have not expressed any opinion about this.'
Georgia has no specific law on religion (it is the only former Soviet republic without one), though there has been intermittent discussion about adopting one. The Georgian constitution, adopted on 24 August 1995, gives the Orthodox Church a place of respect but stresses religious freedom. `The state recognises the special importance of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgian history,' Article 9 declares, `but simultaneously announces complete freedom in religious belief and the independence of the church from the state.' Article 19 stresses that `every individual has the right to freedom of speech, thought, conscience, religion and belief.'
Some nationalist groups would like the government to go further and proclaim Orthodoxy the state religion. However, it seems that such sentiments are not widely supported. (END)
Tuesday 10 August
FURTHER HEAVY FINES FOR UZBEK ADVENTISTS
by Felix Corley, Keston News Service
As the Uzbek government continues its crackdown on religious minorities functioning without official registration, members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church have joined Baptists, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses in facing heavy fines. Most of these fines have been imposed under the Administrative Code, which punishes lesser offences or first time offenders. If any of those who have been fined commit the same offence again, they will face punishment under articles of the much harsher Criminal Code, which can punish peaceful religious activity with prison sentences of up to five years. Uzbekistan's 1998 legislation criminalised unregistered religious activity.
The latest case involves GALINA ISANOVA, the only Adventist in her home town of Gijduvan in Bukhara region. `She sang songs from our children's songbook with her children and invited the neighbour's children to join them,' local Adventists in Uzbekistan report. `After a while a police officer visited her and accused her under Article 239 [of the Administrative Code], which relates to preaching without permission, and she was forced to pay a penalty of eight times the minimum monthly wage. When our church appealed to the Committee for Religious Affairs, we received the answer that the laws were written for people to obey them.'
Isanova's heavy fine follows the earlier fine imposed on ALEKSANDR KAZAKOV, the pastor of the Adventist congregation in Chirchik. He was arrested at 10 pm one evening in late April when two men in civilian clothes came to his apartment demanding that he come with them. They eventually showed Interior Ministry identity cards and referred to a summons from the procurator. When Kazakov told them he wished to verify their summons by telephoning the procurator's office they refused. The neighbours became involved, and one reportedly showed Kazakov a notebook in which had been written: `A. V. Kazakov - sectarian.' The two men forcibly took the pastor away. He was eventually fined five times the minimum monthly wage under Article 240 of the Administrative Code, which punishes organising youth meetings or religious study groups, as well as proselytism.
`The Adventist church in the town of Chirchik was reregistered before almost all others in the whole of Chirchik, and the authorities cannot have been unaware of this,' the local Adventists reported. It is not clear why Kazakov was fined if the congregation had achieved reregistration, though it could have been for holding a service outside registered religious premises or organising an unauthorised group (an offence under the 1998 legislation).
A number of Adventists have been fined for their religious activity since Uzbekistan adopted harsh new legislation on religion in May 1998. IGOR GUSEV from the town of Karshi was fined ten times the minimum monthly wage under Article 240 of the Administrative Code in November 1998 and A. V. RESHETNYAK from Bukhara was fined five times the minimum monthly wage under Article 201, which punishes violating the regulations for holding religious services.
The fine on Reshetnyak followed the Bukhara Adventist congregation's successful registration application to the Ministry of Justice, but the Committee for Religious Affairs - which also has to approve the application - declined. The authorities then began harassing the congregation. `The hokim [governor] of the town repeated his assurance to us several times that the fact that the Adventists were not registered in Bukhara was not the doing of the local authorities,' a 6 May report from the Adventists' Central Asia Conference declared. `This comes from Tashkent and we cannot do anything about it locally.'
The 6 May report details further instances of pressure, even on congregations that have achieved reregistration. `Congregations in Tashkent region receive constant threats that "We will take your registration away", and "Who was it who registered you anyway?" Congregations in Tashkent itself and in Tashkent region are directly subordinate to the Committee for Religious Affairs. Other churches have an intermediary between themselves and the Committee for Religious Affairs - the local hokimats [administrations run by the governors].'
The Central Asia Conference has consistently opposed the 1998 legislation on religion, pointing out that it violates Uzbekistan's own Constitution (Article 16 part 2 of the Constitution bans laws that violate its provisions) and the country's international human rights commitments. However, they have had little success when pointing this out to officials concerned with religion. `When we refer to Article 2 of the law which states "if an international agreement of the Republic of Uzbekistan sets rules different from those stipulated in the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan the provisions of the international agreement shall apply", officials answer that this rule is only for international relations and cannot regulate domestic cases,' YAKOV FRIES, an Adventist leader in Uzbekistan, reports. `From time to time we received just verbal recommendations on the lines of "if you obey the Law on Religious Organisations all your problems will be solved", though actually this never happens.'
Fries laments that the requirement to have 100 adult members before a congregation can gain registration effectively bars most Adventist congregations from even applying for registration. `Because of this rule there is no chance to register any small group, but most of our groups are small.'
He reports the government's response to the latest steps to pressure the Uzbek government to abide by its religious liberty commitments: `On 7 May we joined with the Baptists and the Full Gospel Church and had the opportunity to speak with a representative of the US Congress. Via them we sent our petition to the President of Uzbekistan [ISLAM KARIMOV]. After that our president was invited to the Committee for Religious Affairs and he was told by an official there that "We will govern in the way we see fit! Not in the way someone else wants or suggests".' (END)
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