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Justice for man convicted because of his religious beliefs

Bayatyan v. Armenia  | 2011

Justice for man convicted because of his religious beliefs

I was at home when I learnt I was wanted.  I called them and they came and took me away

Vahan Bayatyan, quoted by lragir.am - © Photo Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 

Background

Vahan Bayatyan is a Jehovah’s Witness. At age 18 he refused to do military service, on the grounds of his Christian beliefs. He asked to do civilian service instead.

The Armenian authorities prosecuted Mr Bayatyan, convicted him of draft evasion and sentenced him to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that the Armenian authorities had failed to make any allowance for Mr Bayatyan’s deeply held beliefs, such as allowing him to carry out alternative civilian service. Instead, they imposed a heavy criminal sanction. This had violated Mr Bayatyan’s right to religious freedom.
 

Bayatyan in the European Court of Human Rights, November 24, 2010
© Photo Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Follow-up

Prior to the court’s judgment, a system of alternative service had been created in 2004. However, it operated under military control, and with very minimal allowances for conscientious objectors.

After the court’s judgment, the system was thoroughly revised in 2013.  It was put under civilian government control, and the authorities ended the prosecution of conscientious objectors who agreed to carry out civilian service. Those who had been imprisoned were released and had their criminal records erased.

At this time, Mr Bayatyan had already been released from prison. His conviction was removed from his criminal record.

Additional information

Bayatyan with his wife, Tsovinar, and son, Vahe
© Photo Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania