Armenian court rejects conscientious objector’s appeal


An Armenian court rejected the appeal of a Baptist conscientious objector who faces two years in jail for refusing to serve in the military.

On Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of Yerevan’s Criminal Court of Appeal rejected the appeal sought by 20-year-old Davit Nazaretyan, who received a two-year jail sentence last October.

“I am a Christian, and I read the Bible. … We have to love one another, even our enemies, and not kill people,” Nazaretyan told Forum 18, a Norway-based human rights organization.

Nazaretyan, a member of an unregistered Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Arinj, near Yerevan, is considering another appeal and will not be required to go to jail until further appeal is heard.

The court pointed to an opinion by the theology faculty of Yerevan State University, who stated, “The creed of the Baptist Church and the analysis of the presented case materials allows us to state that Nazaretyan’s freedom of thought, conscience and religion would not be restricted by military service.”

Mikhail Shubin, Nazaretyan’s pastor, rejected the testimony offered by the Yerevan State University faculty regarding Baptist beliefs, saying his church believes convictions regarding military service are “a personal decision for each church member based on their conscience.”

“Davit asked for alternative civilian service,” Shubin told Forum 18. “If the law allows this, why didn’t they give it to him? If an individual’s conscientious views do not allow him to carry weapons or swear the oath, why didn’t they give him alternative service?”

Nazaretyan began the process of seeking alternative civilian service on religious grounds in June 2022, but officials with the Conscription Service and the Alternative Service Commission repeatedly rejected his requests.

All men in Armenia ages 18 to 27 are subject to conscription and 24 months of military service, with deferments available in strictly limited circumstances. Individuals subject to conscription can apply for 30 months of service without weapons within the armed forces or for 36 months of alternative civilian service.

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Human rights defender Isabella Sargsyan of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in Yerevan, who attended the appeal hearing, said Nazaretyan offered “very sincere” testimony.

“Davit set out very clearly that he does not consider himself guilty of any crime, that he has been in the church since childhood, and that he is ready to perform alternative service,” she told Forum 18.

In 2013, Armenia passed amendments to its alternative service law and its law on implementing the criminal code that created the civilian alternative service. Since then, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been granted the right to alternative service, but adherents of other religious traditions seldom have their requests granted.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Interpreting Article 18, the U.N. Human Rights Commission has stated “there should be no differentiation among conscientious objectors on the basis of their particular beliefs; likewise, there shall be no discrimination because they have failed to perform military service.”

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