By Karine Kalantarian
The Armenian government has recently again refused to legalize the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious group on the grounds that its activities continue to fall short of legal requirements, a senior official revealed on Thursday.
Hranush Kharatian, who heads a government department in charge of religion and ethnic minorities, said her agency concluded that the worldwide Christian cult’s “rituals” and “forms of preaching” are still not in conformity with Armenia’s law on religious organizations. She said the conclusion was drawn in response to a written application for registration with the Justice Ministry that was filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses “about two months ago.”
“Their documents underwent expert evaluation,” Kharatian told reporters. “According to that evaluation, there are provisions in both the statutes and operational rules of Jehovah’s Witnesses contradicting the laws of the Republic of Republic.”
She specified that the Armenian authorities are in particular unhappy with the sect’s trademark house-to-house preaching. The Armenian Apostolic Church, which enjoys a privileged legal status in the country, and some senior government officials regard the practice as “illegal proselytism,” a term not contained in the Armenian law on religion. But the law does state that only the semi-official church to which over 90 percent of Armenians belong has the right to publicly and freely disseminate its beliefs.
Kharatian made it clear that the group’s strong opposition to military service, until recently the main reason for the authorities’ refusal to legalize it, played no role in the rejection of its latest registration bid. She argued that Armenia passed a law late last year gives its male citizens an alternative to the hitherto compulsory service. The legislation is to come into force this July.
As of last December, 15 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were reportedly serving jail sentences and six others were in pre-trial detention for draft evasion. The imprisonment of Armenian conscientious objectors has long been condemned by the Council of Europe and other international human rights organizations. In a resolution adopted last January, the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly expressed its “indignation” at the continuing practice.
The PACE had earlier called for a quick and unconditional lifting of the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.