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Armenian court rejects Baptist conscientious objector appeal against jail sentence

“Jesus Christ teaches us not to kill and he followed this also”, said a Baptist sentenced with two-year jail term for refusing military service.

FUENTES Forum 18 News AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus YEREVAN 22 DE FEBRERO DE 2024 16:58 h
Yerevan, Armenia. / [link]Սէրուժ [/link], Wikipedia.

The Yerevan's Criminal Court of Appeal in Armenia, recently rejected the appeal against a two-year jail term imposed in October 2023 to 20-year-old Baptist Davit Nazaretyan, for refusing military service on grounds of conscience.

All men in Armenia are subject to compulsory 24 months military service between the ages of 18 and 27, but since 2013 Armenians can apply for a 30 months service without weapons or for alternative civilian service, which lasts 36 months.

Nazaretyan is the only conscientious objector facing jail, accused of “avoidance of mandatory military or alternative service or conscription”, although since June 2022 he has repeatedly requested alternative civilian service, and state officials refused his application.

“He has one month to appeal. When he gets the decision in writing he will decide whether to appeal further”, Nazaretyan's pastor Mikhail Shubin told Norwegian religious freedom advocacy group, Forum 18.

The young Baptist will not have to go to prison until a new appeal is heard.

The last known conscientious objector imprisoned, a Molokan from Yerevan who had refused alternative civilian service, was released in 2021, after about three months.

[photo_footer]Baptist Davit Nazaretyan. / Forum 18. [/photo_footer] 


“Jesus Christ teaches us not to kill”

“I am a Christian and I read the Bible. Jesus Christ teaches us not to kill and he followed this also. We have to love one another, even our enemies, and not kill people“, explained Nazaretyan to Forum 18.

Human rights defender Isabella Sargsyan of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in Yerevan, who attended the appeal hearing, pointed out that “the court didn't take into consideration any of Davit's arguments, the decisions in similar cases of the European Court of Human Rights or anything else”.

“Davit set out very clearly that he does not consider himself guilty, that he has been in the church since childhood and he is ready to perform alternative service”, but “the judges seemed to be prejudiced against the religious community”, she added.


Divided opinions

Sargsyan also underlined that the Court in its questioning of Davit stressed what they considered the expert opinion of the Theology Faculty of Yerevan State University, which is led by an Armenian Apostolic Church Bishop.

Despite admitting that Nazaretyan regularly attends a Baptist Church with his family, the Faculty claimed that “Nazaretyan's religious worldview is either not clearly formed, or he himself does not clearly know what religious affiliation he has. We also do not rule out that his statements are opportunistic”.

“The creed of the Baptist Church and the analysis of the presented case materials allow us to state that Nazaretyan's freedom of thought, conscience and religion would not be restricted by military service”, they added.

Pastor Shubin disagreed, stating that he and his Church think that whether or not church members should serve in the military is “a personal decision for each church member based on their conscience”, adding that “we support Davit in his decision”.




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