ARMENIA Provides Alternative Civilian Service Program That Respects Christian Neutrality
In 2013, the Armenian government instituted an alternative civilian service program, allowing Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia to choose alternative service rather than to serve a prison sentence because of conscientious objection to military service. In January 2014, the branch reported that 71 brothers began their work assignments under this new arrangement. Some brothers, for example, are assigned as kitchen workers or as nurse’s aides in hospitals. The supervisors of the program have commented positively regarding the work ethic and the attitude of the brothers in performing the often difficult work assigned to them. The brothers are grateful that provisions have been made for them to perform civilian service so that they can continue to maintain a clean Christian conscience.* One brother commented, “We are thankful to Jehovah that we can do alternative civilian service, which helps us to keep our neutrality and at the same time have the freedom to worship him.”
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC Recognizes First Non-Catholic Religious Wedding Performed by Witnesses
In 1954, the Dominican Republic signed a concordat with the Vatican, making the Catholic Church the sole religion with the right to perform weddings. If a couple was not married by the Catholic Church, an official from the Civil Registry could perform the marriage. However, in 2010, the government adopted a new constitution that granted qualified representatives of other religions this right. The government organized training for those wishing to become licensed. The branch office in the Dominican Republic selected 30 elders to attend, and of the more than 2,000 individuals who applied for the license, only 32 qualified to receive it. However, all 30 of our brothers received their licenses to perform weddings for Witness couples.
INDIA Determined to Preach Fearlessly
On January 27, 2014, the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission ruled that the Police Sub-Inspector (PSI) of Old Hubli Police Station in Karnataka had violated the human rights of Brother Sundeep Muniswamy because the PSI failed to provide protection against a mob attack on June 28, 2011. The Commission held the PSI accountable for the human rights violations and not only directed the government of Karnataka to take disciplinary action against the PSI but also recommended that 20,000 rupees ($326 U.S.) be paid to Brother Muniswamy as compensation. The Commission directed the government to recover the amount from the salary of the PSI.
Brother Muniswamy stated that he and his family are grateful to Jehovah for this extraordinary decision and are determined to continue to preach the good news fearlessly. The decision has strengthened the brothers’ faith and their confidence in Jehovah’s ability to protect his people. It also sends a strong message to the authorities to protect the human rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Karnataka. A criminal case against Brother Muniswamy and another brother, related to the same incident, is still pending in the courts.
KYRGYZSTAN Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court Upholds Right to Conscientious Objection
November 19, 2013, was a significant day for conscientious objectors to military service. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the cases of 11 of Jehovah’s Witnesses and held that Kyrgyzstan’s program of alternative service was unconstitutional. The law required those performing alternative service to make monetary payments directly to the military for the support of military activity. The law also required conscientious objectors to enroll in the reserves of the armed forces upon completion of the term of their alternative service. The Constitutional Chamber determined that it was a violation of the right to freedom of religion to compel conscientious objectors to perform alternative service in such circumstances. Subsequently, in the first few months of 2014, the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan applied the decision of the Constitutional Chamber and acquitted 14 of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were criminally convicted under the former law. These favorable decisions now end a seven-year battle to gain the right to freedom of religion as conscientious objectors. The determination of these peaceful young men upholds Jehovah’s name and our freedom of worship in the Kyrgyz Republic.
NIGERIA “Jehovah Had Rewarded Me”
In Nigeria’s Abia State, Jehovah’s Witnesses are often threatened and ostracized because they refuse to join age-grade associations*—whose community activities often include violence and spiritistic rites. One early November morning in 2005, members of the age-grade association of Asaga Ohafia invaded the home of Brother Emmanuel Ogwo and his wife and unlawfully took all their belongings as forced payment for membership levies. All that was left for the couple were the clothes they were wearing. In 2006, the community evicted Brother Ogwo from his home and village. Brother and Sister Ogwo took refuge with a brother in another village, where their needs were cared for. Although Brother Ogwo returned to his home the following year, he continued to endure pressure to join the age-grade association, and his requests to return his property were ignored.
Finally, on April 15, 2014, the Abia State High Court ruled in favor of Brother Ogwo, upholding his constitutional rights to freedom of association and religion. Brother Ogwo’s looted property has been returned to him, the Witnesses are not as severely ostracized by the community as they were before, and the brothers in Asaga Ohafia now preach freely in the community.
When the court’s decision was announced, Brother Ogwo said: “I leapt with joy. I was very happy. I felt that Jehovah had won the case and that the angels were with me. Jehovah had rewarded me.”
RUSSIA A Ruling in Favor of jw.org
The many legal challenges facing our brothers in Russia have “actually turned out for the advancement of the good news” in that country. (Phil. 1:12) Even though some government officials and religious leaders strongly oppose our worship, our brothers in Russia are maintaining their integrity, and Jehovah is blessing their efforts.
One indication of this is a legal victory in the city of Tver’. In 2013, the Tver’ prosecutor’s office filed a complaint in a local court to ban jw.org throughout Russia. Without informing any representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses of the trial, the court ruled in favor of the prosecutor. Our brothers learned of the court’s decision and filed an appeal. On January 22, 2014, the Tver’ Regional Court reversed the lower court’s decision and ruled in our favor. Thanks to Jehovah and the prayers of the international brotherhood, the majority of our Russian brothers can now enjoy the many spiritual benefits of being able to access jw.org.
TURKEY Continues to Ignore Right to Conscientious Objection to Military Service
Bariş Görmez, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Turkey, spent over four years in prison for his refusal to serve in the military. While in detention he endured harsh treatment at the hands of military police who kicked him and beat him with clubs. He also suffered while he was in the prison cell. Because Brother Görmez is seven feet tall, he was unable to sleep on the bed provided, forcing him to sleep crosswise on two beds in a contorted position. Eventually, the prison authorities gave him permission to have a larger mattress, which was provided by the local congregation.
In 2008, Brother Görmez and three other Witnesses submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that Turkey violated their religious freedom by not recognizing their right to conscientious objection. On June 3, 2014, the Court ruled in favor of the four Witnesses* and directed the Turkish government to award damages and costs to the brothers. This is the third time that the European Court has ruled in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses and against Turkey on this issue. Although there are no Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in prison in Turkey, the issue will not be completely resolved until Turkey recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service.
Follow-Up to Previous Reports
Azerbaijan: The brothers continue to experience police raids at their meetings, censorship of their religious literature, arrests while preaching, and other human rights violations. Meanwhile, the government continues to refuse to grant reregistration to the Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nineteen applications have been filed with the European Court of Human Rights against Azerbaijan on these issues. Despite these difficulties, Jehovah’s blessing is evident in the continued growth in the number of publishers. The release of the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Azerbaijani was further cause for rejoicing.
Eritrea: In that country our brothers continue to serve Jehovah faithfully while enduring severe persecution. Three brothers, Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, have been in prison now for 20 years—since September 24, 1994. Eritrean authorities arrested about 150 Witnesses and interested ones at the Memorial of Christ’s death on April 14, 2014. Those arrested ranged in age from 16 months to more than 85 years. The authorities arrested about 30 more Witnesses and interested ones during the special talk on April 27, 2014. Most have since been released.
Kazakhstan: The Agency for Religious Affairs has not allowed 14 of our publications to be imported into or distributed in the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Also, our brothers are limited in sharing their personal beliefs outside of their registered places of worship, and approximately 50 brothers have been convicted for alleged illegal missionary activity. To defend individual freedom of expression, 26 complaints have been filed with the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Whether to do alternative civilian service or not is a matter of conscience.
An age-grade association is comprised of individuals, usually males, who are contemporaries living in the same village.
Buldu and Others v. Turkey, No. 14017/08, June 3, 2014.