Raids On Peaceful Religious Meetings Continue in Nagorno-Karabakh
Nagorno-Karabakh—Police raid the religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout Nagorno-Karabakh, even though the purpose of the meetings remains the same as it has always been: to discuss Bible topics that will improve family life and give hope for the future. The police claim that they have been ordered to arrest Jehovah’s Witnesses whenever they find “two or more” Witnesses gathered together. Police say that they are to charge the Witnesses under Article 206(2) of the Code of Administrative Violations.
During March and April 2010, religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been raided or disrupted in the cities of Stepanakert, Askeran, Martakert, and Shushi. More than a dozen persons have been arrested, interrogated for three or more hours, charged, and fingerprinted.
Police have begun to target Jehovah’s Witnesses even when they are not meeting together for religious worship. On April 27, 2010, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in Shushi when they were simply visiting a pregnant friend who was ill. On May 2, 2010, police arrested and charged three Witnesses who happened to be traveling together in the same vehicle.
To date, 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been convicted and fined under Article 206(2) of the Code of Administrative Violations, which prescribes a fine “for violating the rules defined by legislation on organizing religious meetings.” The police have misapplied that law—specifically intended to restrict the organizing of large meetings in public places—to outlaw all religious meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including those held in private homes.
Contrary to the police action, Article 2 of the Constitution of Nagorno-Karabakh recognizes that “fundamental human rights” are “inalienable and [of] supreme value.” Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees “freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” while Article 28 guarantees freedom of association. Article 7(6) of the Constitution guarantees that the laws of Nagorno-Karabakh “shall correspond with the principles and norms of international law.”
In response to the latest wave of trouble, Arayik Khachatryan spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, says: “We can hope that senior officials in Nagorno-Karabakh will take measures to apply the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and by international law and will stop the campaign of religious intolerance being carried out by local officials. We merely seek to continue our peaceful worship and contribute to the local communities through a law-abiding way of life and adherence to high moral values.”