Armenia acquits 19 conscientious objectors, but issue remains unresolved

Nineteen conscientious objectors who left alternative labor service have been informed by the Armenian Prosecutor General’s Office that they have been acquitted and that the criminal proceedings against them have been terminated. The ruling opens the way for them to apply for compensation for their illegal prosecution and imprisonment.

Although the government of Armenia has organized nonmilitary work assignments, they are under military control and supervision. Thus the law providing for alternative labor service, as well as its implementation, fails to meet the criteria laid down by the Council of Europe, which calls for genuine and nonpunitive civilian alternative service. In a series of videotaped interviews posted on the Web site, four young Jehovah’s Witnesses describe in their own words why Armenia’s alternative service was not an acceptable option for them.

In a separate development, on September 12, 2006, Hayk Avetisyan was sentenced to two years in prison for his conscientious refusal of military service or alternative labor service. On September 25, 2006, Assistant Prosecutor A. Manukyan appealed the decision, asking for a stricter sentence. The October 18, 2006, decision of the Court of Appeal granted the prosecuter’s appeal and increased Avetisyan’s sentence from 24 to 30 months in prison. Despite the progress implied in the latest acquittals, Avetisyan is one of nearly 50 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in prison for their conscientious refusal of military service. From their study of the Bible, they learned that Christ’s followers should love their neighbors and that Christians are bound together in an international brotherhood. (Matthew 22:39; Acts 15:22) As such, they do not resort to weapons of warfare or learn war anymore.—Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:52.

Until Armenia complies with its commitments to the Council of Europe to adopt genuine civilian alternative service and release conscientious objectors from prison, the issue of conscientious objection to military service remains unresolved.

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