NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Suspended sentence for embattled Baptist conscript
Embattled Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan received a two-year sentence, suspended for one year, at his 7 July trial. He had refused to swear the military oath or serve with weapons since being called up into the army of the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh in the South Caucasus. "This means he won't have to serve any time in prison - if of course he does nothing wrong over the next year," Albert Voskanyan of the local Centre for Civilian Initiatives told Forum 18 News Service. Beaten twice since his conscription last December, Mirzoyan spent 10 days in prison for preaching his faith in his army unit. "After a lot of pressure, Gagik was finally happy because he could see his brothers and sisters from the church at his trial," a Baptist told Forum 18.
Voskanyan attributed the relatively mild penalty to the international attention the case has generated. "Of course the attention played a positive part in achieving only a suspended sentence," he told Forum 18. "This is a good result." Mirzoyan's fellow Baptists had feared a prison term of up to two years. Karabakh officials have revealed to Forum 18 in recent months that letters about his case had arrived in Stepanakert from around the world.
Nagorno-Karabakh has compulsory military service for all young men, with no alternative service provision. Mirzoyan was found guilty under Article 364 part 1 of the criminal code (Nagorno-Karabakh has adopted Armenia's criminal code), which punishes "refusal to perform one's military duties" with detention of up to 3 months, disciplinary battalion of up to 2 years or imprisonment of up to 2 years. However, the court ruled that the sentence should be suspended under Article 70 of the criminal code, which covers conditional punishments.
Mirzoyan is now back with his military unit in the Hadrut district. "He is OK there, though we have to keep an eye on the case," Voskanyan added. The Baptist agreed, reporting that although Mirzoyan is under "special supervision" at the unit, he is not being pressured at the moment.
Mirzoyan, a Karabakh native, was called up last December and refused to serve with weapons or to swear the military oath on grounds of religious conscience. Since being conscripted he has been beaten up in two different military units and served 10 days in military prison (see F18News 6 January 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=483 and 15 April 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=544).
On the day of the trial, an official of Nagorno-Karabakh's foreign ministry had told Forum 18 that no case against Mirzoyan had been completed (see F18News 7 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=600). It remains unclear why the official failed to tell Forum 18 that the trial was taking place that day.
Two Jehovah's Witnesses – Karabakh native Areg Hovhanesyan and Armenian citizen Armen Grigoryan, who had been illegally deported from Armenia to serve in Karabakh against his will – have been sentenced in Nagorno-Karabakh this year for refusing military service on grounds of religious conscience. Hovhanesyan is serving his four-year sentence in prison in the Karabakh town of Shushi, while Grigoryan has been returned to Armenia to serve his two year sentence (see F18News 7 July 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=600).
A printer-friendly map of the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=azerba within the map titled 'Azerbaijan'.
A printer-friendly map of Armenia is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=asia&Rootmap=armeni
7 July 2005
NAGORNO-KARABAKH: Illegally deported Armenian JW conscientious objector jailed, no progress in Karabakh Baptist case
An Armenian citizen, Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Armen Grigoryan, who was illegally deported from Armenia to the unrecognised republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, has been jailed in Karabakh for two years and sent back to Armenia to serve the sentence, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Armen Grigoryan joins eleven other Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors who are currently jailed in Armenia, despite the country's broken promise to the Council of Europe that it would free all these prisoners of conscience and introduce civilian alternative service by January 2004. In another Nagorno-Karabakh case, that of Baptist conscientious objector Gagik Mirzoyan - a Karabakh native who has already spent 10 days in a military prison – the Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Ministry has told Forum 18 that no case has yet been formally brought against him. His congregation were expecting him to be tried in June.
20 May 2005
Baptist conscript Gagik Mirzoyan faces either being jailed or sent to do forced labour for two years for refusing, on religious grounds, to swear the military oath, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Mirzoyan has been beaten up several times in two different military units in Nagorno-Karabakh since being called up last December, when he refused to serve with weapons. He has also been detained for more than 10 days for sharing his faith with other soldiers and possessing several Christian calendars. Mirzoyan's trial has now been set for June and fellow Baptists have told Forum 18 that the "harsh reality" of the maltreatment Baptist conscripts suffered in the Soviet era is returning. Gagik Mirzoyan's congregation has earlier faced harassment from the Karabakh authorities and other Protestants and religious minorities, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, have faced restrictions on their activity.
17 May 2005
Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Armen Grigoryan faces a six year jail sentence, after his illegal deportation from his own country, Armenia, and his refusal to do military service in the unrecognised Nagorno-Karabakh republic, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. But Armenia's Human Rights Ombudsperson, Larisa Alaverdyan, denied to Forum 18 that Grigoryan had been deported. "You can't call it illegal deportation – there's no such term. I'm a specialist on this. Perhaps it might have been illegal removal from the country." She defended what she claimed was the right of the Armenian Defence Ministry to send Armenian citizens to Nagorno-Karabakh, which international law regards as part of Azerbaijan. Armenia continues to break its promises to the Council of Europe to free conscientious objectors and introduce a civilian alternative to military service. Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses continue to be beaten up and jailed for conscientious objection.