Jehova’s witness sentenced to 6 months in prison: Armenia must respect freedom of conscience

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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation the Civil Society Institute (CSI) condemn the sentencing of Jehova’s witness, Andranik Makvetsyan, to 6 month in prison.

On 28 November 2011, Judge Tigran Petrosyan, of the Court of General Jurisdiction of Malatia and Sebastia sentenced Andranik Makvetsyan, under the Article 143.1 (Breach of citizens’ legal equality) of the Criminal Code of Armenia.

On 15 May 2011, members of the Jehova’s Witness religious organisation, Andranik Makvetsyan and Samvel Grigoryan, were preaching to two citizens in the vicinity of the Holy Trinity Church of Yerevan. Priest Ter Yesayi Artak Atanesyan ordered the preachers to leave, which led to a quarrel with Andranik Makvetsyan.

On 17 May 2011 a criminal case was instituted against Andranik Makvetsyan, who was charged under Articles 118 (Battery), 322.1 (Arbitrariness) and 137.1 (Threats of murder, causing grave harm to health, or property destruction) of the Armenian Criminal Code. However, on 21 October the Prosecutor amended the charges, adding a new charge under Article 143.1 (Breach of citizens’ legal equality).

The Court found that Andranik Makvetsyan had violated Article 8.1 (State-Church relationship) and Article 14.1 (Equality before the law) of the Armenian Constitution , stating that “Andranik Makvetsyan violated the right of the victim, Priest Ter Yesayi Artenyan, to hinder attempts to involve people in the Jehova’s Witnesses organization and advocate in the vicinity of the church. Therefore, the acts committed by Andranik Makvetsyan qualify as a crime under Article 143.1 of the Criminal Code.”

Nevertheless, our organisations consider that Articles 8.1 and 14.1 cannot be applicable to the quarrel at issue. Moreover, Article 8.1 of the Armenian Constitution regulating State – Church relationships does not envisage any individual right that could have been breached.
Our organisations believe that the verdict in Andranik Makvetsyan’s case was motivated by the fact that he is a member of the Jehova’s Witnesses’ religious organisation. Consequently, the verdict violates Article 26 (Freedom of Religion) of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, in a general context of pressure against religious minorities.

FIDH and CSI call upon the Armenian authorities,
- to drop the charges and release Andranik Makvetsyan immediately;
- to ensure all religious organizations and their members have the freedom to preach their beliefs, and take all necessary measures to respect Article 26 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia;
- to ensure impartial and independent court hearings in cases concerning freedom of religion;
- to maintain neutrality in freedom of religion related issues and promote tolerance in society and in the relations between all religious organizations.

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