There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including detention. Most registered religious groups reported no significant legal impediments to their activities.
Many conscientious objectors regarded military control of the alternative labor service as unacceptable. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, eight Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted for evasion of military and alternative service and were serving time in prison. Four of the eight received sentences of 24 months in prison, and the remaining four received sentences of 30 months. Fifteen Jehovah’s Witnesses were convicted and received either 24- or 30-month sentences, but remained free pending the outcomes of their appeals. Additionally, 17 Jehovah’s Witnesses were under investigation on similar charges, and cases against nine were ongoing in trial courts. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, at year’s end, 31 members remained in prison for refusing on religious grounds to perform mandatory military or alternative labor service under Ministry of Defense auspices.
The government exempted 20 Armenian Apostolic Church clergy members from mandatory military service and deferred the service obligation of 85 church seminarians.
On January 16, an appeals court confirmed the conviction of Jehovah’s Witness Andranik Makvetsyan for preventing an Armenian Apostolic Church priest’s “right to preach” near a church and violating the priest’s “right to prevent” Makvetsyan from proselytizing. Observers reported that such rights do not exist under Armenian law. Makvetsyan served a six-month sentence and was released.
In contrast to previous years, Jehovah’s Witnesses held conventions without disruption from government officials.
At a February 18 roundtable meeting with representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the minister of education announced that teachers of a course on the history of the Church offered in the public schools would require vetting from the Church’s Mother See, which would also be in charge of their training. Reportedly, the Christian Education Center of the Mother See was already in charge of training teachers for the course.
In July the Center of Collaboration for Democracy (CCD), an NGO, published a report on religious education in public schools, concluding that the curriculum and textbook of the course on the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church focused on the belief system of the church rather than on its history. According to the report, the classes included some elements of religious rites of the church, as well as hate speech against other religious groups, and were designed to indoctrinate students. The report quoted interviews with public school principals and teachers of the class, some of whom stated the purpose of the class was to mold students into “correct” Christians, keep them away from “sects,” bring them closer to the Armenian Apostolic Church, and teach them that other religions divide the nation.
On July 31, a trial court rejected the libel and defamation suit of the Word of Life Church and its senior pastor Artur Simonyan against two periodicals, Iravunk Hetaqnutyun and Argumenti Nedeli v Armenii, and ordered the co-plaintiffs to pay AMD 300,000 ($739) for the periodicals’ legal expenses. In 2011 the two periodicals published articles insinuating a connection between the church and pornography. On May 11, the Information Disputes Council, composed of independent media experts who volunteer expertise on defamation cases, issued an opinion concluding that the absence of factual data in the articles made them offensive, and that the repeated use of the word “sect” constituted incitement of religious hatred. On November 8, the court of appeal upheld the trial court decision and ordered the co-plaintiffs to pay an additional AMD 100,000 ($246) for legal expenses.
On October 23, the former editor-in-chief of Iravunk, a current member of parliament, made statements in parliament referring to the Word of Life Church as a “totalitarian sect carrying out illegal and anti-social activities.” The newspaper maintained a link on its Web site called “Stop Word of Life.”
The government did not enforce its prohibition against foreign funding of foreign-based religious groups.
The city of Yerevan made some efforts to remove leaflets and posters denouncing religious minority groups from walls and poles throughout the city. The materials, posted by a group identifying itself as “One Nation Party” continued to re-appear, and the group reportedly distributed the leaflets in person at subway stations and residential buildings.