By Guest Nicole
A South Korean court has ruled in favor of a man who refused to take part in the country's mandatory military service on religious grounds.
The Gwangju District Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal by prosecutors, upholding a previous ruling that found the man not guilty.
It also acquitted two other so-called "conscientious objectors" who had been sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison.
All three of the men are Jehovah's Witnesses, who say they are prohibited by their faith from entering the military.
The court said the men's refusal of mandatory military service was consistent with their religious faith and conscience, considering how they were brought up.
It cited an international trend of recognizing conscientious objectors, and pointed to a growing consensus that some kind of alternative military service is needed in such cases.
The Defense Ministry urged the court to use caution and prudence, as cases like this may affect national security, cause a decrease of morale for active-duty servicemen, and enable others to evade military service.
Alternative nonmilitary community service is better than prison, economically, as real benefits accrue from those who refuse to go to war.
South Korea’s Unjust Treatment of Dong-hyuk Shin. Photo: Courtesy of jw.org, used with permission.
Since 1953 the Republic of South Korea—one of Asia’s most advanced democracies—has severely punished #conscientious objectors. In 64 years, more than 19,000 young male Jehovah’s Witnesses there have served prison terms totaling more than 36,300 years of accumulated confinement. Presently 393 are serving sentence, typically 18 months to two years. “The New York Times” says 600-700 go to prison annually and comprise more than 90 percent of imprisoned conscientious objectors worldwide. This policy needlessly harms society in general, not just conscientious objectors:
Society foots incarceration costs for prisoner upkeep.
It loses the valuable alternative work these prisoners could perform as community service.
The national economy loses millions of tax dollar revenues that these healthy young men cannot contribute by holding gainful employment.
Then there’s the incalculable emotional devastation to each prisoner’s family.
The struggle to recognize conscientious objection
At a rare juncture in South Korea’s history, according to “The Korea Herald,” both its Supreme Court and its Constitutional Court are dealing simultaneously with conscientious objection.
Various lower-court guilty verdicts have risen through the appellate levels for final judgment. Under scrutiny is whether conscientious objectors should be criminally punished by imprisonment for their stance of strict neutrality. South Korea’s Constitution is also under the microscope, due to pressure by numerous international entities, including the United Nations, which has urged South Korea’s government to adopt legislation that allows for alternative nonmilitary community service.
The conscientious objector’s view
To the conscientious objector, #murder is murder. They hate it. Being ordered to murder doesn’t make them hate it any less. Yet theirs is more than a question of personal taste. They believe that no one—not even a high-ranking official barking orders—can give them, or anyone, the right to take another human’s life.
Many believe a Supreme Authority condemns such permission-giving, even in times of war. And we need to keep that view in mind when figuring out what to do about and how to treat those who will not—for moral reasons that form the core of their very being—commit murder.
Far from cowardly
It’s easy to think of conscientious objectors as cowards who shirk their patriotic duty and flee from danger. But that’s not the case at all. Conscientious objectors face their responsibility; they don’t dodge it. When the Law issues an order, they obey it. If they can’t, they confront the Law through the proper channels, seeking recourse that allows them to discharge their duty without murdering. When their only options are—in their view—to murder or to disobey the law, they do what they are convinced is the morally right thing to do, knowing full well the grave consequences they will face: loss of liberty, sometimes loss of life. That takes considerable courage. Only the brave retain their dignity. Cowards have none to start with and thus none to lose upon fleeing.
Particularly egregious is South Korea’s treatment of Dong-hyuk Shin, who successfully completed military service in 2005 with honorable discharge. That automatically enrolled him in the reserve forces. After studying the Bible, his conscience moved him to change his position regarding military training and service. When summoned in 2006 for reserve forces training, he did not flee. Instead, he informed officials of his new status as a conscientious objector and one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Military officials ignored his objection—to them, it simply did not exist.
Enough is enough
Altogether, from March 2006 to December 2013, the military summoned Mr. Shin 118 times for reservist training. He has been prosecuted and convicted 49 times, has made trial and appellate court appearances 69 times and has received 35 court verdicts. The Court certainly could better spend its time and resources pursuing true criminals and leave Mr. Shin alone. Courts have fined him more than U.S. $13,300. Six times he has been sentenced to prison terms of six months or longer, later replaced by conditional sentences, including 200 hours of community service. Due to all the court appearances, he has had to change employment seven times. The stress has taken a physical toll on his strength and health. His mother has suffered emotional distress due to all the turmoil, and this has intensified Mr. Shin’s own suffering.
The end of all wars
John F. Kennedy wrote to a Navy friend: “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” The inverse of that perceptive prediction is fascinating: When everyone views warfare as murder and conscientiously objects to murder in all its circumstances, then all wars will cease. Warriors may equally dislike taking human lives. Yet their government gives them permission to do so with impunity in certain circumstances. It is the conscientious objector who steels himself (or herself) in face of the State’s demands, to follow the dictates of conscience.
A winning policy, guaranteed
South Korea’s move to adopt alternative nonmilitary service for conscientious objection would be a win-win situation: The nation would benefit from free community services rendered by productive members of society; tax revenues would accrue as conscientious objectors would also be gainfully employed instead of behind bars; with starkly fewer prison inmates, government spending on corrections would drop; and thousands of Korean families would be relieved of the stress and trauma that a family member’s unnecessary imprisonment inflicts on them. International entities worldwide are keenly anticipating the move South Korea will make as a world-leading democracy.
By Guest Nicole
Turkmenbashi City Court jailed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Mekan Annayev for the maximum two years for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Five others have already been jailed in 2018, one in an apparent show trial. Two more young men face trial in August.
The city court in Turkmenbashi in western Turkmenistan has handed down the longest known prison sentence so far in 2018 to punish refusal to conduct compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. At the request of the prosecutor, Judge Myrat Garayev handed 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness Mekan Annayev the maximum two-year jail term, he told Forum 18 from the court on 23 July.
During one meeting at the city's military conscription office in October 2017, officials had called in the city's chief imam to conduct "explanatory work" with Annayev in an apparent attempt to pressure him to undertake military service, even though Annayev is not a Muslim (see below).
In all five other known jailings of conscientious objectors in 2018, courts handed down one-year jail terms. All those sentenced were – like Annayev – Jehovah's Witnesses (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).
Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August. The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August in the northern Dashoguz Region. The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August (see below).
Prosecutor's Offices are considering similar criminal cases against other Jehovah's Witness young men for refusing military service on grounds of conscience, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
The trial of one of those jailed in July was held in the District Military Conscription Office. It remains unknown if this was to show other local young men the punishment for failing to abide by call-up notices (see below).
Forum 18 wished to ask the Human Rights Ombudsperson Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, who was named by the government-appointed parliament, why individuals who cannot do military service on grounds of conscience cannot undertake alternative, civilian service and why they are jailed. However, her telephone went unanswered each time Forum 18 called on 10 August.
No conscientious objection, no alternative service
Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. Article 58 of the 2016 Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Turkmenistan ignored the recommendation of a July 2016 legal review of the draft Constitution by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation that it should include a provision for alternative, civilian service (see F18News 3 October 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2220).
Young men who refuse military service on grounds of conscience face prosecution under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour (see Forum 18's Turkmenistan religious freedom survey http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2244).
In March 2017, at the end of its review of Turkmenistan's record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee again called on the authorities to end punishments for those unable to perform military service on grounds of conscience and introduce an alternative, civilian service (CCPR/C/TKM/CO/2).
"The State party should revise its legislation without undue delay with a view to clearly recognizing the right to conscientious objection to military service," the Committee declared, "provide for alternative service of a civilian nature outside the military sphere and not under military command for conscientious objectors, and halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those who are currently serving prison sentences."
Officials refused to explain to Forum 18 why they did not implement the UN recommendation. With the two jailings in January 2018, less than a year after the UN report was issued, Turkmenistan began imprisoning conscientious objectors again after a break of four years (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).
Turkmenbashi: maximum 2-year jail term
The Conscription Office in Turkmenbashi, a port city on the Caspian Sea, summoned Jehovah's Witness Mekan Orazdurdiyevich Annayev (born 22 June 1999) to Balkan Regional Conscription Office for military service in June 2017 (when he reached the age of 18). The Conscription Office summoned him twice in October 2017 and again in March 2018 and twice in April 2018, according to the indictment seen by Forum 18.
In response to two of the summonses, Annayev went to the city Conscription Office, telling officers that he could not conduct military service on grounds of conscience. The indictment records that he quoted Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew: "Put away your sword, for all who live by the sword shall die by the sword."
On 26 October 2017, the indictment notes, Annayev "arrived at the military conscription office with his parents and brother. Explanatory work was conducted with him with the participation of the Chief Imam of Turkmenbashi." Annayev repeated his refusal to perform military service on grounds of conscience.
Curiously, the indictment notes that Annayev is not a member of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the country's ruling party.
On 4 June 2018, after establishing that Annayev was medically and psychologically fit for military service, had no criminal record and was not on the register of alcoholics or drug addicts, Trainee Assistant to Turkmenbashi Prosecutor L. Saltykova brought charges against him under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Annayev's trial was held at Turkmenbashi City Court on 26 June, four days after his 19th birthday.
During Annayev's trial, the court's chief judge Rustam Atajanov came to the courtroom and interrupted Judge Garayev, who was presiding over the hearing. "Atajanov began rudely questioning Mekan Annayev and accusing him and all Jehovah's Witnesses of being traitors," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. "He even demanded, loudly screaming, to throw two attendees out simply for whispering." After Judge Atajanov left, the hearing continued.
At the end of the trial, the state prosecutor asked the court to sentence Annayev to two years' imprisonment. "In most other cases, state prosecutors usually ask to sentence young Jehovah's Witnesses to one year of imprisonment," Jehovah's Witnesses noted.
Judge Garayev acceded to the prosecutor's request and sentenced Annayev to two years' imprisonment in an ordinary regime labour camp. As Annayev had not been under arrest before the trial he was arrested after the verdict was handed down and taken away to begin his sentence.
Judge Garayev refused to explain to Forum 18 on 23 July why he had punished Annayev for refusing military service on grounds of conscience or why he had given him the maximum penalty. He also refused to discuss the conduct of the trial, including why the chief judge had interrupted proceedings.
Annayev did not appeal against his conviction to Balkan Regional Court, the court told Forum 18 on 23 July.
Two more Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors face trial in August under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 after refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience.
The trial of Isa Sayaev was due to have begun on 9 August at Koneurgench City Court in the northern Dashoguz Region. Forum 18 was unable to reach the court on 10 August to find out if the trial took place as scheduled.
The trial of Ruslan Artykmuradov is due to begin in Lebap Region on 13 August, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
Was July trial a show trial?
Three Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors are known to have been jailed in July under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. Each was given a one-year ordinary regime labour camp sentence. One of the three, Ikhlosbek Valijon oglu Rozmetov (born 26 November 1997), was convicted on 11 July at Gurbansoltan eje District Court in Dashoguz Region (see F18News 30 July 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2400).
According to the verdict seen by Forum 18, Judge Sh. Almazov of Gurbansoltan eje District Court held the trial in the conference hall of the District Military Conscription Office. It added that the trial was open. The verdict gives no reason for the decision to hold the trial there.
Forum 18 was unable to reach Gurbansoltan eje District Court or the Military Conscription Office to find out who had attended the trial apart from the accused, prosecutors, lawyers and witnesses and whether the trial was meant to send a signal to local young men of what happens to those who refuse compulsory military service.
The verdict notes that Rozmetov had not been under arrest in the run-up to the trial (he had been required to sign a declaration not to leave the area). He was arrested in the courtroom after the verdict was delivered to be taken away to begin his sentence.
Imminent transfer to Seydi Labour Camp?
The latest jailed conscientious objectors are likely to be sent to serve their sentences at the ordinary regime labour camp LB-K/12 in the desert near Seydi, in Lebap Region. Many other prisoners of conscience jailed to punish them for exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief have been held in the camp.
The two imprisoned Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors - Arslan Begenchov and Kerven Kakabayev – were sent there after their January convictions (see F18News 23 March 2018 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2363).
Also held at Seydi Labour Camp is fellow Jehovah's Witness Bahram Hemdemov. He was arrested during a March 2015 raid on his home, after which he was tortured. He is serving a four year prison term from 19 May 2015 on charges of allegedly inciting religious hatred, which he strongly denies, but his real "crime" seems to have been hosting a meeting for worship (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
The address of the Seydi Labour Camp is:
746222 Lebap velayat
By Guest Nicole
La Sala Sexta de Revisión de Tutelas de la Corte Constitucional, integrada por los magistrados JosÃ© Fernando Reyes Cuartas, Cristina Pardo Schlesinger y Gloria Stella Ortiz Delgado, encontrÃ³ razÃ³n en los argumentos expuestos por la Iglesia Cristiana de los Testigos de JehovÃ¡ en Armenia contra la CorporaciÃ³n AutÃ³noma Regional del QuindÃo (CRQ), la cual pretendÃa hacer el cobro de la tasa.
Este caso iniciÃ³ en febrero del 2017, cuando la iglesia hizo una solicitud formal a la AlcaldÃa de Armenia para exonerar un predio de su propiedad, en donde realizaban sus actividades espirituales, del pago de impuestos.
La administraciÃ³n municipal aceptÃ³ la peticiÃ³n en lo que tiene que ver con el impuesto predial, sin embargo, mantuvo el cobro del impuesto ambiental.
Por esta razÃ³n, estos testigos de jehovÃ¡ decidieron instaurar una tutela alegando una presunta violaciÃ³n del derecho de la igualdad y libertad de cultos. En primera instancia, el Juzgado Segundo de EjecuciÃ³n de Penas de Armenia considerÃ³ que no habÃa discriminaciÃ³n, porque con excepciÃ³n de la iglesia catÃ³lica ninguna otra habÃa sido exonerada del impuesto ambiental.
La iglesia continuÃ³ con el proceso mediante un recurso de impugnaciÃ³n que presentÃ³ en la Sala de DecisiÃ³n Penal del Tribunal Superior del Distrito de Armenia, el cual tumbÃ³ la decisiÃ³n del juzgadoÂ”ConsiderÃ³ evidente la violaciÃ³n del derecho a la igualdad de la accionante, en la medida en que a esta no se le ha aplicado la exoneraciÃ³n de la sobretasa ambiental con el mismo rasero que se aplica a la iglesia catÃ³lica, situaciÃ³n que involucra un tratamiento desigual e injustificadoÂ”, explicÃ³ la Sala al exponer su fallo.
Esta decisiÃ³n fue ratificada por la Corte Constitucional, por lo que en adelante el pago de dicho impuesto no deberÃ¡ ser cobrado a ninguna organizaciÃ³n que funcione como una iglesia en Colombia.
El alto tribunal ademÃ¡s exhortÃ³ al Gobierno Nacional, por medio del Ministerio de Hacienda, y al Congreso de la RepÃºblica, a travÃ©s de la ComisiÃ³n Tercera Constitucional de la CÃ¡mara de Representantes, para que elaboren un proyecto de ley en el que se establezcan las disposiciones legales que regulen el cobro de la sobretasa ambiental a las iglesias y confesiones religiosas, en virtud de lo ordenado en la ConstituciÃ³n y la Ley 133 de 1994.
By Bible Speaks
Armenia lost the case before the representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses at the ECHR *
EREVÃN, March 7, 2018, 00:42 - REGNUM Armenia lost the next case before the European Court of Human Rights. This time, the case concerns four representatives of the religious organization "Jehovah's Witnesses" (an organization whose activities are prohibited in the Russian Federation). The ECHR found that Armenia violated the ninth article of the European Convention (violation of freedom of thought and religion) in its respect. According to the verdict of the court, the Armenian authorities are obliged to pay the claimants, in three months, 48,000 euros (12,000 each). Russian Su-57 attacked American militants and instructors
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Four plaintiffs in 2011 were prosecuted for refusing to submit to compulsory military or alternative service.
On July 17, 2017, the judicial board of the Supreme Court of Russia decided to reject the organization's appeal against the resolution on its liquidation. On April 20, the Supreme Court of Russia recognized the Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist organization and liquidated it. Their activities are prohibited in the territory of the country.
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Recognize that the organization "Jehovah's Witnesses" forbade and confiscated all their properties for the extremism that previously required the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. The lawsuit agency noted that "Jehovah's Witnesses" (an organization whose activities are banned in the Russian Federation) are promoting the idea of their exclusivity and superiority over other religions, which represents a threat to public order.
In addition, the organization repeatedly ran into violations of the law and did not take any action to eliminate them. - https://regnum.ru/news/2387940.html
By Guest Nicole
Jeong Chun-guk, who served the longest time in Korea for conscientious objection, seven years, is now a farmer. [KIM SEONG-TAE]
For 69-year-old Jeong Chun-guk, whose seven years and 10 months in jail is still the longest time ever served by a conscientious objector to mandatory military service in Korea, the struggle for peace has finally led him to a tranquil plot of land in Geumsan County, South Chungcheong, where he can focus on farming and his faith.
Â“I believed that it was more important to spread the new world I discovered within the Bible,Â” he says of his decision not to serve in the military. He had followed his motherÂ’s footsteps, becoming a JehovahÂ’s Witness when he was a freshman studying medicine at Chungnam National University in Daejeon.Â
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have traditionally held a view that worship should be only to the Â“Kingdom of God,Â” therefore banning allegiance or participation in any national government or politics among their faithful. Though taught to obey the laws of where they inhabit, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have been known to disobey the laws that conflict with their doctrines, such as denying blood transfusion and refusing to serve military duties.Â
His father, a prison officer, was at a loss for words upon hearing that Jeong had dropped out of school after only one semester.Â
Â“The watchtower my father climbed with his lunch box seemed like a great dungeon from some novel,Â” he says. Â“I never imagined that I would live in such a place.Â”Â
When Jeong turned 21 in 1969, he was incarcerated for 10 months, at the height of anti-communist sentiment following the Blue House raid on Jan. 21, 1968, when North Korean commandos attempted to assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee.Â
After the October Restoration of 1972, in which Park assumed dictatorial powers, conscientious objectors and their families were publicly shamed and the penalty was sharply increased with amendments to the Military Service Law and the new Special Acts for Violation of Military Service Law.Â
At 26, Jeong received another draft notice and arrest warrant. He sent Daejeon District court a seven-page appeal, but the appeal judge sentenced him to three years in prison, twice the initial sentencing.Â
Prison guards, he came to learn, were particularly brutal towards JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Â“Fearing that JehovahÂ’s Witnesses might proselytize, they did not make us work. Instead we were forced to sit down for the whole day. The only times we could stand up were during our three meals and 15-minute exercise sessions,Â” says Jeong. Â“We prayed so that we may work standing.Â”Â
In those days, the Military Service Law did not allow exemptions from service until three years of penal labor had been served. The Supreme Court deemed it legal to repeat this punishment every time military service was declined, so Jeong was sentenced again in 1974.Â
Upon completing his second sentence at 29, he asked the Military Manpower Administration why a university dropout like himself was being drafted.Â
The Military Service Law back then considered candidates eligible for active duty from the time they graduated high school until the age of 28. But for undergraduates, this was extended to 30.Â
The administration replied that even freshman dropouts were considered undergraduates.Â
One day in February 1977, as he was waiting to finally go home, Jeong was taken to the 32nd Infantry Division.Â
He received another four years in jail from the military court on the conviction of Â“disobeying orders.Â” Â“I thought this was the end,Â” says Jeong, Â“I remember crying at the sight of my motherÂ’s tear-filled eyes.Â”Â
His punishment ended in 1981 at the age of 33.Â
Â“It was strange to see no one stalking me from behind as I walked home,Â” he says.Â
Recently, a lawyer advised him to re-open his case, but Jeon has decided against this. Â“ItÂ’s not impossible to empathize with those who try to protect society by policing those who step out of line,Â” he says, Â“even if they have the strangest reasons.Â”Â
BY MOON HYEON-KYUNG [email@example.com]
By Guest Nicole
Rima Grigoryan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
Armenian identity is so tightly interwoven with religion that it can often be heard that the only true Armenian is a follower of the Armenian Church. Contempt, discrimination, and outright hatred towards religious minorities have led to a worryingly widespread perception of them as outsiders — a threat to Armenian statehood.
Anna (not her real name), 45, comes from Gyumri. She used to work as an Armenian language teacher in a local school, but was forced to leave after the school authorities discovered that she was a Pentecostal Christian.
‘I would never have thought that simply attending meetings of my religious organisation in my free time could be a reason for being fired from work. I was a teacher for ten years and my colleagues described me as a loved and respected professional. One day, I was invited to the principal’s office where he asked me to hand in my notice, because many parents had complained that a “sectarian” was teaching their children’, Anna told OC Media.
Anna recalls that she initially tried to fight for her rights, but eventually got frustrated and left the school voluntarily four years ago.
‘I left voluntarily, hoping I would find another job. The whole year turned out to be full of suffering. All the schools I approached slammed their doors in my face, because I was considered a “heretic”. If not for my brothers and sisters in faith, I would have starved to death’, Anna said.
Anna (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
Despite always being able to count on moral support from her religious community, one day she attempted to end her life, tired of the almost universal scorn.
‘I drank bleach in order to die, but Jesus saved me — thank the Lord. I am grateful to him that I now have my little shop, which makes me feel human again’, Anna said.
Anna is now earning her daily bread with trade, selling fresh produce.
‘I’m happy I’m able to help people in need. Each morning I distribute fresh and healthy produce to people in need. We must all cleanse our souls and share what we have with our neighbours’, Anna said.
Although there are no official statistics to back it up, there is anecdotal evidence that Anna’s suicide attempt because of religious discrimination is far from unique in Armenia.
(Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
According to official data, there are 66 registered organisations carrying out religious activities in Armenia.
According to the 2011 census, the Armenian Apostolic Church is the biggest religious domination in the country, followed by 93% of its 3 million inhabitants. Other Christian denominations make up 2.1% of the population, including Catholics, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The government considers these to be official religious organisations, although there are also several groups that only have the status of NGO, such as the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation Community or the Unification Church. Unregistered communities include Buddhists and the Hare Krishna community.
The Armenian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religious belief to every citizen. In theory, the rights of religious minorities are protected, yet in practice, the picture is rather different.
The US State Department pointed out in their 2015 International Religious Freedom Report that religious minorities in Armenia are often subjected to various forms of abuse — obstacles in obtaining building permits for places of worship, and discrimination in education, the military, law enforcement, and public sector employment.
The report also points out preferential government support for the Armenian Apostolic Church and negative media reports often referring to religious minorities in a derogatory manner as ‘cults’ or even as ‘enemies of the state’. It also pointed to instances of verbal and physical harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses while proselytising.
A family torn apart by religious intolerance
Kristine (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
‘My family happiness lasted for only two years’, Kristine (not her real name), 35, recalls with sadness. She is currently taking care of her 5-year-old son alone.
Kristine comes from the city of Vanadzor, in northern Armenia’s Lori Province. Six years ago she got married and moved with her husband to Yerevan. The first months were happy for the newlyweds, especially when they found out that they were to become parents.
‘When my child fell ill, I suffered a lot. At the hospital I met Jehovah’s Witnesses, who provided me with a lot of moral support. Over time, I began to read their books and I realised that I was living my life incorrectly, and that I needed different religious nourishment’, Kristine told OC Media.
After she decided to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses, her life changed.
When Kristine’s in-laws found out that she had embraced a new faith, they first tried to convince her to abandon it. Later, they stopped visiting her family home.
‘My parents-in-law forbade my husband from communicating with me. I struggled for half a year. I loved him, but I couldn’t lie to myself; I had to go my own way’, Kristine recalls.
In the end, her husband’s relatives won over her husband. The separation process was painful, with her husband’s family trying to deprive her of her parental rights. After a long legal battle, the court decided that Kristine’s child should stay under her custody.
‘Now my son is with me and I am happy. He is often ill, but we are strong together. It’s definitely going to be fine. My husband doesn’t even remember us; he has a new family. I live with my parents. They are followers of the [Armenian Apostolic] Church, but they don’t mind and we respect each other’, Kristine said.
Kristine managed to find a job as a saleswoman at a private company, but she’s still struggling to provide for her and her son.
‘His father bought him a bicycle for his fourth birthday. I never saw him after that. He told me that we could be back together if I started living as a “normal” person, otherwise there was no place for me to grow old by his side’, Kristine said, smiling.
Faith can get you arrested
Edgar Soghomonyan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
According to data provided by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to OC Media, since 1991, 19 members of the group have been arrested on charges of evading military or alternative civilian service, and sentenced to between one and one-and-a-half years in prison.
After Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, members of various religious communities — especially Jehovah’s Witnesses — refused to undergo military service, for which they often ended up in prison. In 2001, a condition was set for Armenia to adopt a law on alternative civilian service before the country could become a member of the Council of Europe. A relevant bill was finally passed on 17 December 2013.
According to the current Law on Alternative Service, one can join the armed forces without being obligated to carry or use a weapon for 36 months, or to undergo an alternative civilian service for 42 months. The usual length of military service is 24 months.
After 2015, many Jehovah’s Witnesses and Molokan Christians who were undertaking civilian service realised that they were still under the supervision of the Ministry of Defence, and refused to continue. Several dozen were convicted on charges of desertion and sentenced to between three and eight months in prison. Their cases eventually reached the European Court of Human Rights, who ruled against Armenia, forcing them to change the law to provide a truly civilian option.
Edgar Soghomonyan, 18, is a Jehovah’s Witness. he has already spent 4 months of alternative civilian service working in an elderly care home. His duties include feeding and taking care of people with disabilities. Edgar says that he is loved by all and he is content with his work.
‘I work six days a week, from nine to six. On Sundays, I’m free. The only difficulty is that the people I’m taking care of are heavy and difficult to move’, Edgar told OC Media, adding that he made the right choice because the Bible forbids him from carrying weapons.
Jehovah’s Witnesses under the shadow of Russia
Alvard Galstyan and Adrine Muradyan (Armine Avetisyan/OC Media)
Rima Grigoryan, who has lived in a nursing home for two years, has been a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for three years. She hasn’t encountered problems, but other members of her congregation often complain of discrimination.
When members of her community approach pedestrians or knock on people’s doors and offer booklets, they are often treated with contempt. There were cases where the posters they were holding in the streets were vandalised by passers-by. Rima says that she can’t understand such treatment, because they only preach what’s good.
There are also other religious minorities in the nursing home. The Pentecostals are especially numerous.
Pentecostals Alvard Galstyan and Adrine Muradyan have been roommates since 1988. Over the years they have grown to be close friends and religious sisters. They are happy with their lives, although they remain isolated from society at large.
‘No-one persuaded us to believe or become members of their religious group, nor do we try to convince anyone. Our teaching is founded on love. We want to live in peace’, Alvard told OC Media, adding that Armenians lacked a little bit of kindness by judging people for their religion and not for the people they are.
Alvard and Adrine are worried by the Armenian reactions to the April 2017 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia’s Supreme Court, under its ‘anti-extremism’ law. They say that the news has intensified hatred towards religious minorities, with many Armenians openly calling for their own government to follow suit.
By Guest Nicole
A performance criticizing the government’s handling of conscientious objectors, at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square by Amnesty International Korea, the Center for Military Human Rights, World Without War, and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to call for an end to the publishing of personal data on military service evaders, Mar. 28. (by Kim Tae-hyeong, staff photographer)
Objectors and civic groups calling for government to introduce alternative forms of service, instead of punishment
On Feb. 23, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) sent a notice to 23-year-old Park Sang-wook informing him that his personal details were to be made public as a military service evader. Park’s failure to report to the training center on his reported enlistment date of Dec. 26 was defined by the MMA as “evasion of active military service.” Barring special grounds, the notice informed him, his name, age, address, and other personal details would be published online at the end of the year.Park is a conscientious objector. His decision not to perform military service was motivated not by religious reasons, but by his pacifist convictions. On Mar. 28, he took the microphone at a press conference organized at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square by Amnesty International Korea, the Center for Military Human Rights, World Without War, and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to call for an end to the publishing of personal data on military service evaders.“What is evasion? It means deliberately avoiding a task because of laziness,” he said.“Under the guise of ‘protecting the public,’ the state has established a rigid military state and is massacring its own citizens or deploying them as hired soldiers,” he continued. “Tarnished as it is by defense industry corruption and suspicious deaths, isn‘t it the military itself that is really full of evasion?”Park is awaiting trial after being indicted this month for violating the Military Service Act. Unless he can present special grounds, he will have to spend eighteen months in prison. Barring other circumstances, he will have his name, address, and other personal data made public in December as a military service evader.As a fellow conscientious objector, PSPD secretary Hong Jeong-hoon is in a similar position.“Publishing personal data for someone undergoing trial defies common sense,” Hong said at the press conference.“We need to recognize individuals’ conscience and convictions and institute a system for alternative forms of military service,” he continued.Last year, the MMA began publishing personal information about military service evaders, including their name, age, address, and the nature of their evasion. The Ministry of National Defense instituted the system to prevent evasion at higher echelons in particular and promote an atmosphere of diligent military service compliance. In late 2016, it published the first list of 237 military service evaders who had not reported by December since an amendment to the Military Service Act went into effect in July 2015.The group World Without War noted that “at least 160 of the 237 people were conscientious objectors as Jehovah’s Witnesses, suggesting conscientious objects represent the majority of the system’s targets.”“As a system that seeks to use shaming to force compliance with military service duties, this system has no effect whatsoever on conscientious objectors who feel they cannot defy the dictates of their conscience, even if it means going to prison,” the group said.Speaking at the press conference, Amnesty International Korea secretary Park Seung-ho explained, “The United Nations Human Rights Committee previously said it was a breach of protocol for the South Korean government to impose prison sentences on conscientious objectors without giving them an opportunity for alternative service.”“Now the South Korean government has built up the conscientious objection issue so much that we can talk about conscientious objection being a right in itself,” Park added.“Instead of infringing more on human rights by releasing personal information, what the South Korean government should be doing is honoring its promises to the international community.”By Park Su-ji, staff reporterPlease direct questions or comments to [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Support for conscientious objection increases
By Kim Se-jeong
The number of people in Korea who support conscientious objection has risen significantly over the last decade, a recent survey showed, Monday.
According to the survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission on 2,556 people aged 15 or older from May to December, 46.1 percent of respondents said the country should allow conscientious objection.
The commission has conducted the survey regularly and the support ratio has increased from 10.2 percent in 2005 to 33.3 percent in 2011.
"Tolerance has improved, but it is clear that conscientious objection is still a contentious issue in Korean society," the commission said in a report. "The number shows it is time for open discussion about it."
The survey didn't mention what contributed to the change in public opinion.
All able-bodied men aged 18 or older in Korea are obliged to serve in the military. Objectors are subject to prison terms. According to statistics, almost 600 men are punished every year for refusing to serve.
Most objectors in Korea cite religion or personal belief in peace as reasons for refusal. Many of them are Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination.
They demand the government give them an opportunity to serve the country in other ways by introducing alternative services. But the government has refused to accommodate their request, saying no exception is allowed for compulsory military service.
The survey results came out hours before a local court ruling in favor of conscientious objection.
Siding with a 23-year-old conscientious objector surnamed Park, the Jeonju District Court in North Jeolla Province said, "We recognized that the defendant refused to serve on the basis of his religion and values, which is an individual freedom given to all."
Park, a Jehovah's Witness, was taken to court by the government in June last year after refusing to comply with the mandatory service.
A dozen other local courts and an appeals court in Gwangju have also ruled in favor of conscientious objectors.
The Constitutional Court has been reviewing petitions from such people and is expected to make a ruling sometime early this year on whether compulsory military service infringes on individuals' freedoms and whether the country needs to allow alternative services.
The ruling was originally due by the end of last year, but was put off as the court has been focusing on the review of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment.
In 2004 and 2011, it ruled against objectors.
THE KOREAN TIMES
Posted : 2017-01-10
By Kim Se-jeong
By Guest Nicole
Me llamó la atención la barba de uno de los hermanos que sostiene la pancarta
By Guest Nicole
I noticed the beard
By Guest Nicole
Courts have sentenced five Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors in 2016 to two-year suspended prison terms for refusing compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. A sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence. Turkmenistan ignored OSCE calls for the new Constitution to recognise conscientious objection.
Six conscientious objectors – all of them Jehovah's Witnesses – are now known to have been convicted and sentenced in Turkmenistan so far in 2016 to punish them for refusing to perform compulsory military service on religious grounds. Five received two-year suspended sentences. The sixth received a one-year corrective labour sentence, where he lives at home under restrictions and a fifth of his wages are seized.
All six young men were sentenced under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. This punishes refusal to serve in the armed forces in peacetime with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or two years' corrective labour.
No conscientious objectors to military service are known currently to be imprisoned. Over many years, Jehovah's Witness young men have routinely been convicted for refusing compulsory military service on religious grounds. Although in earlier years some were given non-custodial sentences, most were imprisoned. The last known imprisoned conscientious objector, Ruslan Narkuliyev, was freed under amnesty in February 2015 (see F18News 18 February 2015 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2039).
Five young Jehovah's Witnesses are known to have been convicted for refusing compulsory military service and given corrective labour sentences in 2014 and 2015 (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
Turkmenistan offers no alternative to its compulsory military service. Article 58 of the new Constitution describes defence as a "sacred duty" of everyone and states that military service is compulsory for men. Turkmenistan ignored a call from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to recognise the right in the Constitution (see below).
Military service for men between the ages of 18 and 27 is generally two years. A proposed Alternative Service Law was reportedly drafted in 2013, but officials have been unable to tell Forum 18 if and when it might be adopted (see F18News 29 September 2014 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2002).
No official was prepared to discuss with Forum 18 why young men continue to be convicted for refusing military service on religious grounds and why Turkmenistan has ignored calls by the United Nations (UN) and OSCE for a civilian alternative to compulsory military service to be introduced.
Following his usual response, Pirnazar Hudainazarov, Chair of the Mejlis (Parliament) Legislative Committee, refused absolutely to discuss anything. "Don't call here," he told Forum 18 from the capital Ashgabad [Ashgabat] on 3 October. "Ring the Foreign Ministry." He then put the phone down.
Telephones at the Foreign Ministry went unanswered on 3 October. Forum 18 was unable to reach Shemshat Atajanova, a department head at the government's Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Ashgabad. A colleague refused to put Forum 18 through to her on 3 October and also refused to answer any questions himself.
Dashoguz: two-year suspended sentence
Jehovah's Witness Sanjarbek Saburov, from the northern city of Dashoguz, refused military service during the spring call-up. On 17 July he was placed in preventive detention while awaiting trial, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18. A complaint regarding the detention was filed with the Presidential Administration, the General Prosecutor's Office, the Interior Ministry and the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
On 10 August, Dashoguz Regional Prosecutor's Office responded to Saburov, stating that they would readdress his complaint to Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office. The response from Dashoguz City Prosecutor's Office is still pending.
Saburov was tried under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. On 9 August, a Judge handed him a two-year suspended sentence. He was released in the courtroom after more than three weeks' detention.
Seydi: two-year suspended sentence
Jehovah's Witness Artur Yangibayev, from Seydi in the eastern Lebap Region, refused military service during the spring call-up. On 2 and 11 May, he sent a written petition to the Military Conscription Office, explaining his conscientious objection to military service.
On 16 June, two representatives of the Conscription Office, along with the local police officer, went to his home and took him to the Prosecutor's Office, where he was threatened with 15 years' imprisonment. "The officers applied severe psychological pressure and forced him to write a letter retracting his earlier written petition for alternative service as a conscientious objector," Jehovah's Witnesses complained to Forum 18.
A complaint about the coercion to which Yangibayev was subjected was filed with the Presidential Administration and the General Prosecutor's Office.
Yangibayev was charged under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1. On 8 August, he was placed in pre-trial preventive detention. On 30 August, a Judge handed Yangibayev a two-year suspended sentence. He was released in the courtroom after more than three weeks' detention.
Ashgabad: Four sentences in 2016
Four Jehovah's Witness young men from Ashgabad are known to have been convicted in 2016 under Criminal Code Article 219, Part 1 for refusing military service on grounds of religious faith.
The first was Dayanch Jumayev, sentenced in Ashgabad in February to one year of corrective labour. He was ordered to live at home under restrictions, with one fifth of his wages being seized by the state (see F18News 5 July 2016http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
Three others were subsequently sentenced on the same charges between February and August. Merdan Ochanov, Konstantin Sivkov and Ruslan Rahmetulov each received two-year suspended sentences, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18.
An official of the chancellery of Ashgabad City Court refused to say if any of the four appealed against their sentences. "We don't give any information by telephone," she told Forum 18 before putting the phone down.
Further United Nations findings against Turkmenistan
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee has found that Turkmenistan violated the rights of five further Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The five latest decisions – issued on 15 and 16 July – bring to 9 the number of such findings by the Committee against Turkmenistan in conscientious objection-related cases.
In the July decisions, the Committee found violations in the cases of Navruz Nasyrlayev, Matkarim Aminov, Dovran Matyakubov and Shadurdy Uchetov (all of whom had served prison terms), as well as Akmurad Nurjanov (who had received a suspended prison term). All five had lodged their appeals to the UN Human Rights Committee on 7 September 2012.
In March and October 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee found that Turkmenistan had violated the rights of four further Jehovah's Witness young men by imprisoning them for refusing compulsory military service on religious grounds. The Committee also ruled that beatings and other maltreatment (such as a head being repeatedly bashed against a wall) of Zafar Abdullayev, Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Ahmet Hudaybergenov and Sunnet Japparov is torture and the government needs to provide reparations (see F18News 5 April 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2164).
In all nine decisions, the Committee found the convictions and sentences for refusal of compulsory military service to be an infringement of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, in breach of ICCPR Article 18, Part 1. In each case, the Committee also determined that the authorities' treatment of the men violated the ICCPR Article 7 guarantee that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
In addition, the Committee concluded that what Jehovah's Witnesses describe as the "deplorable living conditions" violated the right of detainees to be treated "with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person," under ICCPR Article 10.
Turkmenistan has not yet implemented the Committee's views, Jehovah's Witnesses lamented to Forum 18.
The UN Human Rights Committee is still considering the appeals by five more Jehovah's Witness former imprisoned conscientious objectors: Akmurat Egendurdiev, Arslan Dovletov, Juma Nazarov, Yadgarbek Sharipov and Atamurat Suvkhanov. Also awaiting a decision is Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Danatar Durdyyev, who was fined. These appeals were lodged in 2012 and 2013 (see F18News 5 July 2016 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2196).
UN Human Rights Committee questions
At its July session in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee adopted a list of issues for the consideration of Turkmenistan's record under the ICCPR (CCPR/C/TKM/Q/2). The full review is due to take place in Geneva in March 2017.
In its list of issues, the Committee reminded Turkmenistan's government that it had already called on it in 2012 to introduce a civilian alternative service (CCPR/C/TKM/CO/1). It told the government "please indicate what steps have been taken to: (a) amend the relevant legislation to recognize the right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service and introduce alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors; and (b) halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those individuals who are currently serving prison sentences for such a refusal".
The UN Human Rights Committee also asked Turkmenistan's government to "explain how the restrictions imposed on the exercise of freedom of religion, particularly by the Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations Act, including mandatory registration of religious organizations and prohibition of activities of unregistered religious organizations, prohibition of worship in private homes, restrictions on religious education and the importing, publication and distribution of religious literature, and the administrative penalties for violations of the legislation in question are compatible with the State party's obligations under article 18 of the Covenant [ICCPR]".
Turkmenistan ignores OSCE on lack of alternative service in new Constitution
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov signed into law a new Constitution on 14 September. Despite government claims, it ignored recommendations prepared by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) that the text should make explicit mention of the right to opt for an alternative to military service.
Article 58 of the new Constitution declares: "The defence of Turkmenistan is the sacred duty of every citizen. For male citizens of Turkmenistan, universal military obligation has been established." The wording of this Article was identical to the wording of Article 38 of the previous Constitution.
The OSCE comments on the then draft Constitution were completed on 21 July and published on 1 September (http://legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/6321/file/288_CONST-TKM_21Jul2016_en.pdf). The OSCE recommended Turkmenistan "to include in Article 58 of the Draft Constitution an exception to the compulsory character of military service where such service cannot be reconciled with an individual's religion or beliefs (and to include references to possible alternatives of a non-combatant or civilian nature)".
Other OSCE concerns on new Constitution ignored
In its review the OSCE also recommended that the new Constitution make explicit reference "to the right of each individual to give and receive religious education in the language of their choice, and to the right to cultural expression in the field of religion, with specific reference to the rights of members of registered and unregistered religious groups to freely exercise their religion and culture, while ensuring that religious organizations are not precluded from taking part in public affairs". Turkmenistan ignored these recommendations.
"Under international human rights law," the OSCE review noted, "religious or belief communities should not be obliged to acquire legal personality if they do not wish to do so; the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief must not depend on whether a group has sought and acquired legal personality status."
In Article 18, which bans religious organisations from interfering in the affairs of state, the OSCE recommended that this be "re-considered or clarified", otherwise it could "misinterpreted" to prevent religious organisations from getting involved in public affairs. The OSCE also questioned why a similar ban on the interference by the state in the affairs of religious organisations was not included. These recommendations were ignored.
Similarly ignored was the OSCE recommendation for the ban on religious-based political parties to be removed from Article 44 of the new Constitution.
2010 OSCE review of Religion Law similarly ignored
The OSCE had earlier urged Turkmenistan to introduce a civilian alternative to military service, including in a review of the then Religion Law made public in December 2010 (see F18News 20 December 2010 http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=1523). (END)
By Guest Nicole
By Kim Se-jeong
An Jung-hyun, 23, is a Jehovah's Witness on trial for refusing to fulfill his compulsory military service. He was found guilty twice in lower courts, and appealed to the Supreme Court in July. Lawyers told him his chances of winning were low given the highest court's precedents, but he is cautiously hopeful.
This year alone, district courts acquitted nine fellow Jehovah's Witnesses of violations of the Military Law. The most recent ruling came one week ago from the Cheongju District Court which stated, "There are many ways to contribute to the nation without violating a person's basic rights such as social service or alternate work. It is unjust to punish military objectors by criminal law without even making efforts to provide alternatives."
Another hopeful sign comes from Kim Jae-hyung, a Supreme Court justice nominee who recently expressed his support for such objectors and alternative ways to serve the country. His confirmation hearing will begin in September, and if confirmed, he is expected to add a different opinion on the 13-justice court.
Ahn Se-young from Amnesty International Korea also showed cautious optimism.
"These developments certainly reflect growing public support for conscientious objectors," Ahn said.
While the government has claimed that conscientious objectors do not enjoy public support, Amnesty International Korea and Gallup recently conducted a survey in which more than 70 percent of respondents expressed support for conscientious objectors, according to Ahn.
"But, the appeals court and highest court are still conservative," Ahn said. She also doubts Kim will be influential enough to change the opinion of the entire top court.
Kim Dong-in, another Jehovah's Witness, claimed it's time for the Korean government to take a stance.
"If you look at the world, fewer countries refuse to recognize conscious objectors. It will eventually happen in Korea. It's time for Korea to voluntarily recognize them instead of being coerced to do so under pressure," he said.
But those against conscientious objectors claim if they are recognized, many people will abuse the system. "If Jehovah's Witnesses are found not guilty and are allowed alternative services, many young men will join the religious group only to avoid military duty," a blogger said. "There will be no way to sort out whether they are really believers or just misusing the system."
Now, eyes are on the Constitutional Court, which is expected to rule on an appeal by a conscientious objector later this year. Two previous rulings found it unconstitutional to skip military service because of personal beliefs.
Between 1950 and 2011, more than 16,000 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned in Korea, according to Amnesty International Korea. Every year, hundreds of objectors, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are put on trial for their rejection of military service based on their beliefs. Those convicted are sentenced to imprisonment for up to 18 months.
"There will be so much I won't be able to do if I have a criminal record," An said. "I am not saying that I will avoid my service to the country altogether. I would like to serve my country, but in a different form."
By Guest Nicole
By Guest Nicole
By El Bibliotecario
QUE MOMENTO TAN EMOCIONANTE!!
26 de Marzo del 2016
ARMÊNIA LIBERTA 70 JOVENS TESTIGOS DE JEOVÁ QUE FUERON PRESOS POR
REUSARSE A SERVIR A LA MILICIA Y NO QUERER USAR ARMAS E IR PARA A GUERRA.
GRACIAS A NUESTRO PADRE Jehová Todo salió Bien.
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