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 - © Photo Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 


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


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

Related examples

Justice and reforms after airmen were given criminal convictions for their religious activities

Three Greek air force officers were members of the Pentecostal Church. They were all convicted for promoting their religion and given suspended prison sentences of over a year. The European court ruled that convicting the men for these conversations with civilians had violated their right to religious freedom. The Greek government took steps to ensure that no such prosecutions happened again.

Read more

Reforms made after mother lost custody of her children simply because of her religion

Ingrid Hoffmann was a Jehovah’s Witness. When she got divorced, a child psychologist advised that Ingrid should be given custody of her two children, because of their close emotional ties. However, a court ruled that the father should get custody, because of Ingrid’s religion. The European court ruled that this had been discriminatory – leading to changes to prevent the same happening again.

Read more

Airline worker wins fight for religious freedom

Nadia Eweida worked for British Airways (BA). She wore a small silver cross around her neck, as a sign of her religious faith. BA suspended Nadia from work without pay because her cross violated its uniform policy. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that this was an unreasonable interference with Nadia’s right to freedom of religion - leading to a change in relevant standards in the UK.

Read more

Protection for religious freedom after church banned from existence

The Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia is an Orthodox Christian Church. The Moldovan authorities refused to register it as a religious organisation, meaning that it could not own property and its members could not meet to practice their religion. The Strasbourg court ruled that the authorities’ refusal to recognise the church had been disproportionate. Substantial reforms were made to protect...

Read more

Reforms made after unreasonable punishment given to conscientious objector

Iakovos Thlimmenos was a Jehovah’s Witness. He refused to do military service on religious grounds, and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. Upon his release, he was also prevented from working as an accountant. The Strasbourg court ruled that this had been unreasonable and unjustified - amounting to discrimination based on religion. Laws were changed as a result.

Read more

Reforms to prevent government interference with religious organisations

In 1995 the Bulgarian government removed the elected Chief Mufti of Bulgarian Muslims and appointed a different leader. The Strasbourg court ruled that this had been arbitrary government interference with a religious organisation, which breached the right to religious freedom. A new law was passed to end government control over the registration of religious groups.

Read more