Kornelij Glas (kornelij) wrote,
Kornelij Glas
kornelij

Armenia: Human Rights Report 2006, State Depatment, p.1

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

Armenia, with a population of approximately 3.2 million, is a republic. The constitution provides for a popularly elected president (Robert Kocharian) and a unicameral legislature (National Assembly). A constitutional referendum in 2005 and presidential and National Assembly elections in 2003 were seriously flawed and did not meet international standards. The country has a multiparty political system. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces; members of the security forces committed a number of human rights abuses.

The government's human rights record remained poor, and serious problems remained. Citizens were not able freely to change their government; authorities beat pretrial detainees; the national security service and the national police force acted with impunity; authorities engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention; prison conditions were cramped and unhealthy, although slowly improving; authorities imposed restrictions on citizens' privacy, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. Journalists practiced self‑censorship, and the government and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse were problems, as were trafficking in persons, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and societal harassment of homosexuals. There were reports of forced labor.

There were some improvements during the year. The implementation of constitutional reforms ratified in 2005 led to some increase in judicial independence and for the first time gave citizens direct access to the Constitutional Court. Penalties for trafficking were toughened and a court for the first time imposed financial, as well as criminal, penalties on traffickers.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government and its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, and unlike in 2005, neither the government nor advocacy groups reported any deaths from hazing or other mistreatment during the year.

There were reports that an officer kicked a serviceman, who had previously undergone testicular surgery, in the groin. The serviceman later died, reportedly from cancer, after a second surgery on February 27. The officer received a one‑year suspended sentence.

The military prosecutor's office said that there were no hazing‑related deaths during the year.

Armenia continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. During the year incidents along the militarized line of contact separating the sides again resulted in numerous casualties on both sides. Reporting from unofficial sources indicates that approximately 20 persons were killed and 44 were wounded, including both military and civilian casualties on both sides of the line of contact.

All parties to the Nagorno‑Karabakh conflict have laid landmines along the 540‑mile border with Azerbaijan and along the line of contact. During the year there were reports that a landmine killed one civilian and unexploded ordnance killed another.

On September 5, unknown persons killed a senior tax official using a bomb apparently planted under the seat of his government car. State prosecutors opened an investigation and arrested two suspects, based on the testimony of the official's driver. One suspect was released from prison on medical grounds. At year's end the investigation was ongoing.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, government security forces employed them. Witnesses continued to report numerous cases of police beating citizens during arrest and during interrogation while in detention. Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported similar allegations; however, most cases of police mistreatment went unreported because of fear of retribution.

On November 16, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published a report on its 2004 visit to the country. The CPT's investigators received numerous allegations from detainees of mistreatment by officials. One individual asserted he had received kicks and blows with fists and truncheons on various parts of his body; he appeared to bear bruises and other medical indications consistent with this account. The inmate said the ill treatment stopped when he agreed to sign a confession. Although the testimony was taken in 2004, other portions of the report criticized the authorities for not putting safeguards into place that might reduce the likelihood of such treatment.

The government reported that police conducted five internal investigations into misconduct by off-duty police officers during the year. Two officers were subjected to disciplinary action, and criminal cases were opened against the remaining three, all of whom were fired. The government reported that during the year 20 police officers received administrative fines (compared to 49 in 2005) for their roles in cases involving police mistreatment of detainees. Prosecutors also opened 11 criminal cases against some of the police officers involved; the disposition of those cases was unclear at the end of the year.

Unlike in 2005, when there was a constitutional referendum, there were no reports that police beat opposition supporters during the year. There was no indication that authorities were investigating reports that police beat opposition supporters following the 2005 constitutional referendum (see section 3).

Social norms and substandard living conditions in the armed forces contributed to mistreatment and injuries unrelated to military operations. Although there was no reliable and up‑to‑date reporting on the full extent of military hazing, soldiers reported to human rights NGOs that the practice continued. Local NGOs reported instances of hazing and said parents of soldiers complained that corrupt officials controlled military units. Authorities did not take any significant measures to limit or stop the practice; however, 20 military personnel were convicted in connection with criminal cases of hazing during the year.

A soldier reported in February that fellow servicemen raped him while they were on active duty. The case was under investigation at the end of the year.

In August Razmik Sargsian, a soldier who had been serving a 15-year sentence for the 2003 murder of two fellow soldiers, staged several hunger strikes to protest his innocence. Sargsian said interrogators, including military investigators and military police officer Aram Baghdasaryan, physically mistreated him for five days to obtain his confession for the killings. He claimed interrogators suspended him by his hands and beat him and threatened him with rape. Sargisian's confession implicated two other soldiers, and the court of first instance sentenced all three to 15‑year terms in May 2005. Following an unsuccessful appeal, the Court of Appeals extended their sentences to life in prison on May 30. When the defendants' lawyers, Zaruhi Postanjian, Ashot Atoyan, and Stepan Voskanian, asserted that the proceedings were fraudulent and designed to cover up involvement of higher ranking personnel, state prosecutors initiated contempt proceedings against the lawyers at the request of the three appeals court judges who heard their cases (see section 1.e). On December 22, in a significant assertion of judicial independence, the Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, nullified the convictions of the soldiers and ordered them released. The Court based its ruling on a provision of the Criminal Procedural Code that allows a judge to send a case back to the prosecutor's office for reinvestigation if the original investigation was not conducted lawfully. Charges against the soldiers remained in place at year's end.

By law detainees may file complaints prior to trial to address alleged abuses committed by authorities during criminal investigations; however, detainees must obtain permission from police or the prosecutor's office in order to obtain a forensic medical examination needed to substantiate a report of physical abuse. Human rights NGOs reported that authorities rarely granted such permission (see section 1.e.). There were no prosecutions or convictions of police for torture or other mistreatment during the year. Police conducted 18 internal investigations of complaints of brutality by their officers, but information on the outcome of these investigations was not available at year's end.

The CPT described allegations that detainees had spent periods of up to 10 days in various district divisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Yerevan "in cells deprived of suitable means of rest, without a mattress and a blanket and without food (other than that brought by relatives)."

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained poor and posed a threat to health, although the Civil Society Monitoring Board (CSMB), an organization established by government initiative involving prison monitoring by NGO personnel, reported some improvements as authorities began to renovate old prisons. However, problems remained: cells were overcrowded, most did not have adequate facilities, prison authorities did not provide most inmates with basic hygiene supplies, and food quality remained extremely poor. The CSMB reported in 2005 that prisoners were at high risk of contracting tuberculosis, and adolescents held in juvenile facilities rarely received the schooling required by law. The CSMB reported other chronic problems, including denial of visitor privileges, medical neglect, and in the most extreme cases, physical abuse.

In certain facilities prisoners bribed officials to obtain single occupancy cells and to obtain additional comforts. There were also unverified reports that authorities charged unofficial "fees" to family members and friends seeking to deliver meals to inmates. In some prisons monitors noted that prisoners had difficulty mailing letters and that some prison officials did not adequately facilitate family visits.

A local NGO reported that of 62 prisoners held in pretrial detention in the Lori region between January 1 and March 17, 16 showed signs of abuse. The NGO based its findings on prison logs in which authorities documented the conditions of prisoners transferred from pretrial detention. The same NGO reported that guards and administrators at prisons in Nubarashen and Goris had beaten prisoners.

On July 23, four prisoners serving life sentences at Nubarashen Prison attempted to escape. After they were caught they attempted suicide and later went on a week‑long hunger strike to protest prison conditions. The governmental human rights defender's office later sent a task force to the prison to investigate and found that conditions at the prison had improved with the renovation of cells and medical facilities but remained very poor.

The CSMB monitors reported that female prisoners had more freedom of movement than male prisoners and that their facility was cleaner and better equipped.

Observers believed that most instances in which authorities abused prisoners took place in pretrial detention facilities, which were under the control of the Department of Police. Suspects may be held in such facilities without charge for up to three days, and longer at the request of the prosecutor general and with the assent of a judge.

The government permitted local NGOs and international rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor conditions in prisons. Authorities continued to permit personnel of the CSMB to visit prisons without giving advance notice, as they have done since 2004. However, despite the government's commitment to give the CSMB access to all detention facilities, including holding cells and local police stations, the Department of Police did not permit the CSMB or any other locally based organization to visit detention facilities under its control during the year.

The ICRC was permitted to visit both prisons and pretrial detention centers and did so in accordance with its standard modalities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, in practice authorities continued to arrest and detain criminal suspects without warrants.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The national police and the National Security Service (NSS) are responsible for domestic security, intelligence activities, and border control; they report directly to the prime minister. Both services lacked the training, resources, and established procedures to implement reforms or to prevent incidents of abuse. Prisoners reported that police and NSS authorities did little to investigate allegations of abuse. As a result, impunity was a serious problem.

In contrast to 2005, the government made some efforts to modernize and reform police and security forces, although the changes had mostly to do with infrastructure. On August 25, police opened a community justice center in Vanadzor with help from the local affiliate of the international NGO, Project Harmony. The center offered counseling to first‑time juvenile offenders and brought local police into public schools for community outreach. On October 30, a new community policing project designed to facilitate cooperation between police and civilians was initiated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the Arabkir district police department in Yerevan.

Corruption remained a significant problem in the police force and security service. Police officers routinely stopped motorists at roadside checkpoints to extort illegal "fees." Motorists reported that traffic police generally demanded approximately $2.80 (1000 drams) to pass a checkpoint. Investigative journalists alleged that police inspectors and superiors received a portion of the proceeds from each traffic stop. As a result, there were no incentives to curb the practice and no efforts by the government during the year to do so.

There was no dedicated mechanism for investigating police abuse. By law citizens may sue police in court as they would sue any person against whom they had an adjudicable complaint. The government reported that during the year citizens lodged 69 civil complaints against police in court. Judges decided 26 of those cases in favor of the citizens and dismissed the remaining 43.

Arrest and Detention

Prosecutors and police must first obtain a warrant from a judge in order to arrest a suspect, except to avert the imminent flight of the suspect or when they witness a crime in progress. Although judges rarely denied police requests for arrest warrants, police at times made arrests without a warrant on the pretext that detainees were material witnesses rather than suspects. The law provides that a detainee must either be indicted or released within three days of arrest, and this procedure was usually followed in practice; however, in some cases police skirted this requirement by alleging that suspects were material witnesses, who do not have the right to prompt judicial determination or legal counsel. The law provides for a bail system; however, most courts denied requests for bail in favor of detention.

The law also requires police to inform detainees of their right to remain silent, to make a phone call, and to be represented by an attorney from the moment of arrest and before indictment (including state‑provided lawyers for indigent detainees). In practice police did not always abide by the law. They often questioned and pressured detainees to confess prior to indictment and in the absence of counsel. Since witnesses do not have the right to legal counsel or prompt judicial determination, police used this loophole to interrogate suspects in the absence of counsel and to detain them beyond the three‑day limit for indicting suspects. Police sometimes restricted family members' access to detainees.

During a year without national elections, there were no large demonstrations; arbitrary detention of protestors was not a problem.

Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. According to the law, a suspect may not be detained for more than 12 months awaiting trial and authorities generally did not exceed this limit. The government reported that during the first nine months of the year, pretrial detainees constituted on average about 25 percent of a prison population of nearly 3,000.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, despite structural changes implemented during the year that led to somewhat greater independence, courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive and legislative branches, and judicial corruption was a problem.

The law provides for a three‑tier court system, including the highest court (the Court of Cassation), the Court of Appeals, and courts of first instance. Cases originate in courts of first instance; appeals are lodged with the Court of Appeals and the Court of Cassation. There is also a Constitutional Court, which rules on the constitutionality of legislation, approves international agreements, and rules on election‑related questions.

Citizens' right to appeal was strengthened by changes approved in the 2005 constitutional referendum and enacted into law on July 1. These changes gave ordinary citizens the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court, which previously could only accept cases proposed by the president and approved by a two‑thirds majority of the National Assembly or cases involving election‑related issues brought by the National Assembly or presidential candidates.

Changes to the constitution which allowed citizens to bring appeals to the Constitutional Court took effect on July 1. From that date through August 22, 288 citizens appealed to the court, which immediately threw out more than 60 percent of the cases, because they did not call into question a law's constitutionality and thus were not within the court's mandate. Of the remaining 109 appeals, hearings were scheduled for 13. The first hearings took place September 12 through November 14.

The president exercised dominant influence over the judiciary, including over the appointment and dismissal of judges and chairmen of courts on all levels. He has the authority to make appointments based on the recommendations of the Judicial Council, the supreme judicial body in the country, which previously consisted of nine judges, two legal scholars, and three prosecutors, all of whom he also appointed. The judicial reforms that took effect on July 1 significantly reduced the president's power to appoint members of the Judicial Council. He subsequently had the right to appoint only two of a 13‑member body; the other members are either appointed by the National Assembly or elected by a General Assembly of Judges by secret ballot. The Constitutional Court is the only other exception to presidential dominance in judicial appointments; he appoints only four of its nine judges.

On December 22, the Court of Cassation took the highly unusual decision of voiding two lower court decisions on the grounds that the original investigation had not been conducted lawfully (see section 1.c.).

Even with these changes, however, the judiciary was still far from independent. The Ministry of Justice remained responsible for the administration of judicial exams, the disciplining of judges, and the development of legislation relating to judicial functioning.

Trial Procedures

The law generally requires that trials be public, but it permits many exceptions, including when a trial's secrecy is in the interest of "morals," national security, or for the "protection of the private lives of the participants." Juries are not used. A single judge issues verdicts in courts of first instance, and panels of judges preside over the other courts. Defendants generally have the right, and are generally required, to be present at their trials, but this requirement also has many exceptions. They have the right to counsel of their own choosing, and the government is required to provide them with defense counsel upon request; however, this obligation was frequently not honored in the regions outside of Yerevan, where there often were not enough defense lawyers. Defendants also commonly refused free counsel due to the poor quality of the public defenders or the perception that public defenders colluded with prosecutors.

Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence, and they and their attorneys may examine the government's case in advance of trial. Judges generally granted defendants' requests for additional time to prepare cases. The law provides for the presumption of innocence; in practice this right was not always observed. In one case during the year, defendants' lawyers who criticized the outcome of their case, were sued for contempt of court by the judges involved (see section 1.c).

Court statistics released on August 7 indicated that fewer than 1 percent of court cases resulted in acquittals. However, these statistics do not reflect the many cases that judges remanded to the prosecutor's office for lack of evidence and that prosecutors dropped and never sent back to court. Thus prosecutors, in effect, often lost their cases during the year. According to one international NGO specializing in legal issues, pretrial investigations lasted an average of one to three months. Both defendants and prosecutors have the right to appeal.

There were reports that prosecutors used confessions obtained through methods that some NGOs asserted amounted to torture, as central elements of their cases. Defense lawyers may present evidence of torture to overturn improperly obtained confessions; however, defendants stated that judges and prosecutors refused to admit such evidence into court proceedings, even when the perpetrator could be identified.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Armen Babajanian, the editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak, was arrested on June 26 and charged with document forgery and evasion of military service. He was convicted on September 8. Babajanian admitted his guilt, but his four‑year sentence was somewhat harsher than is customary, and some observers charged that he was the victim of selective enforcement.

Apart from this possible exception, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The same courts hear civil and criminal cases. Citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation; however, the courts were widely perceived as corrupt, and potential litigants in civil cases often evaluated the advisability of bringing suit on the basis of whether they or their opponents had greater resources with which to influence judges. Citizens also had access to the ombudsman's office, and during the year they were given access to the Constitutional Court when they judged that constitutional rights were not being protected (see sections 1.e., and 4).

Residents of approximately 100 houses in downtown Yerevan that were razed to make way for a new boulevard lost a number of court cases protesting their evictions during the year. The Constitutional Court ruled on April 18 that the 2002 government decision that made the demolitions possible violated parts of the constitution, but the court did not obligate authorities to return the remaining houses to their former owners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits unauthorized searches and provides for the right to privacy and confidentiality of communications; however, the government did not always respect these rights in practice.

There were several reports of government surveillance of opposition Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovhannesian. The party also reported that its members were harassed and threatened (see section 3).

By law, judges may authorize authorities to wiretap a telephone or intercept correspondence only after being presented with compelling evidence; however, the law was not strictly enforced in practice, and some judges arbitrarily granted permission.

At times police maintained surveillance of draft-aged men to prevent them from fleeing the country.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government partially limited freedom of speech. There were incidents of violence, intimidation, and self‑censorship in the press.

The law prohibits incitement to national, racial, or religious animosity. There were no prosecutions under this provision during the year, unlike in 2005 when Armen Avetisyan, the leader of the Union of Armenian Aryans, was convicted of this offense and given a three-year suspended sentence for making anti‑Semitic and anti‑Yezidi statements in a press interview (see section 2.c.).

Most newspapers were privately owned with the exception of government‑sponsored Hayastani Hanrapetutyun and its Russian‑language version, Respublika Armenii. The print media pursued stories vigorously and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, but no media outlet was completely independent of patronage from economic or political interest groups or individuals.

Newspaper circulation was very limited, and most of the population relied on television and radio for news and information. There were more than 20 radio and 45 television stations, most of them privately operated. In Yerevan and regional cities, private television stations generally offered news coverage of good technical quality; however, the substantive quality of news reporting on television and radio varied. Most stations were owned by progovernment politicians or well-connected businessmen, factors that led journalists to engage in self‑censorship. Major broadcast media outlets generally expressed progovernment views. Public Television of Armenia (H1) generally avoided editorial commentary or reporting critical of the government.

In 2003 the National Commission for Television and Radio (NCTVR), the governing body for the country's media whose members are all appointed by President Kocharian, awarded a progovernment national television channel, Kentron TV, a broadcast frequency that had previously belonged to A1‑Plus, one of the country's last politically independent television stations. Observers alleged the decision was politically motivated due to A1‑Plus's previous criticism of the Kocharian administration. During the year A1‑Plus continued its unsuccessful efforts to obtain a license to resume broadcasting. Since A1-Plus lost its license it has unsuccessfully filed 12 applications for radio or television licenses. An OSCE report, The State of Media Freedom in Armenia, released in July, recommended that the composition of the NCTVR and similar regulatory bodies be changed to represent the political diversity of the country and to include NGOs and professional associations.

In September, in an action unusual in a National Assembly where the ruling coalition has a comfortable majority, lawmakers rejected government-sponsored legislation that would have altered regulation of the media. The legislation would have further restricted media freedom, reduced or eliminated television coverage of National Assembly sessions, and altered the composition of the NCTVR. Under the government proposal, the National Assembly would appoint half of the members of the NCTVR and the president the other half, but none would be selected by other elements of society as recommended by the OSCE report.

International media outlets generally operated freely.

The editor of the opposition newspaper Yerevan Zhamanak was arrested on June 26 and charged with document forgery and evasion of military service. He was convicted on September 8.

Although he admitted guilt, Armen Babajanian's four‑year sentence was harsher than is customary for such offenses, and some observers regarded him as a victim of selective enforcement see section 1.e).

There were unconfirmed reports of several incidents of harassment and intimidation of journalists that appeared to be related to their journalistic activities.

Independent investigative journalist Edik Baghdasarian reported that in July he began to receive e‑mail threats following the publication of two articles on his Web site criticizing a new political party.

Journalist Gagik Shamshian, who works for opposition‑owned Chorrord Ishkhanutiun newspaper, reported that a gang of men attacked him on July 11 after he publicly accused the local district prefect's father of threatening him. He had written an article saying that two men arrested on charges of bank robbery were relatives of the prefect. Shamshian claimed the prefect's brother was among his attackers. Shamshian said law enforcement officials harassed him after the attacks for refusing to retract his testimony against the prefect's brother. The local police told Shamshian they had received complaints detailing criminal activity on his part, which he denied. Several weeks later, he retracted the allegations. The criminal case against him went to court December 14, with no verdict by year's end. On July 20, an unknown person broke the windows of Chorrord Ishkhanutiun's office, poured gasoline on the windowsills, and set them on fire. Citing disillusionment with the country's law enforcement officers, Chorrord Ishkhanutiun did not ask for a police investigation. The editor said she wasn't sure of the motive behind the fire; however, others drew a connection between the incident and the paper's reporting on the district prefect.

On September 6, unknown persons assaulted Ovannes Galagzhyan, the editor‑in‑chief of the opposition‑sponsored newspaper Iravunk, in an attack he believed was related to political topics discussed in his newspaper.

There was no official censorship, although journalists and opposition parties complained that the government put pressure on television stations not to grant air time to several out‑of‑favor politicians. Print and broadcast journalists continued to practice self‑censorship because of pressure from official sources and from economic self-interest.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail. Internet cafes were widely available in the cities, although local ISP connections were often too slow to be useful.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but there were some limits on this right. Organizers are not required to obtain a government permit to stage a rally or demonstration but are required to notify authorities in advance of their plans for such events. There were also locations, such as military installations and sensitive power generation facilities, where persons could not demonstrate without permission. The law empowers police to break up illegal rallies and demonstrations, particularly those that encourage violence and the overthrow of the government. During the year police did not break up demonstrations.

The government did not interfere when small rallies took place without permission.

There were reports that government authorities hindered political party meetings and pressured property owners to evict opposition parties from meeting facilities. For example, during the year the opposition Heritage Party was evicted from its offices, ostensibly over a lease dispute (see section 3). In May 2005 Aram Karapetyan asserted that his New Times opposition party was evicted from its headquarters in Yerevan following pressure on the landlord by government officials.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it in practice. However, registration requirements for all political parties, associations, and secular and religious organizations remained cumbersome, exacting, and time‑consuming. The law stipulates that citizens have the right to form associations, including political parties and trade unions, except for persons serving in the armed services and law enforcement agencies. As in previous years, no human rights groups or political organizations reported problems with registration, although the Heritage Party reported harassment of its members (see section 3).

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion; however, there were some restrictions in practice. The Armenian Apostolic Church has formal legal status as the national church, which gives it privileges not afforded to other faiths. The law gives minority religious groups that register with the government specific rights, such as the right to publish newspapers and magazines, rent meeting places on government property, broadcast television or radio programs, and sponsor official visitors. Unregistered religious organizations may only import small quantities of religious literature for private use. The law also requires all religious organizations except the Armenian Apostolic Church to obtain prior permission to engage in public religious activities. There were no reports that religious groups were denied, or otherwise had problems with, registration.

The law prohibits incitement to national, racial, or religious animosity. There were no prosecutions under this provision during the year, unlike in 2005 when Armen Avetisyan, the leader of the Union of Armenian Aryans, was convicted of this offense and given a three-year suspended sentence for making anti‑Semitic and anti‑Yezidi statements in a press interview.

Although the country has a law providing alternative service for conscientious objectors, the military services themselves administer the alternative service, and many members of Jehovah's Witnesses refused the alternative program for that reason. At year's end, according to Jehovah's Witnesses lawyers, 52 of their members were in prison, 49 of them serving sentences and three awaiting trial.

On October 27, the Jewish community, with assistance from the government and other groups, unveiled a new Holocaust memorial to replace the old one that had been vandalized earlier in the year.

The law prohibits proselytizing‑‑which is left undefined in the law‑‑by minority religions and bans foreign funding for foreign‑based churches; neither ban was enforced. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints reported police harassment of missionaries in July 2005; however, church officials said members had not experienced any harassment since then.

The Jehovah's Witnesses organization reported that an Armenian Apostolic priest assaulted two of its members on August 21. According to the group, one of the victims suffered a broken arm and a concussion. The group said police opened an investigation but quickly ended it, stating that the priest expressed remorse for his crime.

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