Paying for Conscience: European Court awards 112,000 Euros in Armenia v. Jehovah’s Witnesses case

Paying for Conscience: European Court awards 112,000 Euros in Armenia v. Jehovah’s Witnesses case

Photo: www.echr.coe.int

The verdict of the European Court for Human Rights by which a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses have won their lawsuit against the Republic of Armenia, has angered many of those who oppose the religious organization.

Social networks are flooded with outraged comments, saying why their taxes should go to paying the total of 112,000 Euros (about $145,500) the Armenian state has to give to the 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses in alternative military service who had refused to carry weapons, saying that it conflicted with their religious beliefs..

The November 27 verdict says that “the applicants are 19 Armenian nationals who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Having applied to the authorities to perform alternative labor service instead of military service on religious grounds under the 2004 Alternative Service Act, they were each assigned to perform the service in various institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and dispensaries. In May and June 2005, they respectively informed those institutions that, since the alternative service was under the control of the military, they could not continue to serve in good conscience, and subsequently left their places of service. Placed in detention for several months following criminal proceedings brought against them for abandoning their service institutions – which had eventually been discontinued – 17 of the applicants complained that they had been detained for an act which had not constituted an offence at the time, in breach of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Further relying in particular on Article 5 § 5 (right to compensation for unlawful detention) they complained that they had been denied compensation for their unlawful detention.”

Tigran Harutyunyan, press secretary for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia, told ArmeniaNow that his organization has filed two more lawsuits to the European Court [they haven’t been considered yet]. Those are group cases involving 16 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Three other Jehovah’s Witnesses had won their case at the European Court, which ruled in their favor, confirming their right to refuse army service on religious grounds.

“At the moment 31 Jehovah’s Witnesses are serving their terms in prison [for having refused alternative military service], 15 others have been convicted but have not been sent to prison yet, as the verdict has been appealed,” says Harutyunyan.

The field is still regulated by the law on “Alternative Military Service” that came into force in 2004. The defense ministry however drafted a bill of amendments last year considering a number of controversial issues. The parliament has not discussed the draft law yet.