For Immediate Release
June 14, 2011
Pressure on facility owner forces cancellation of Witnesses’ convention in Armenia
VANADZOR, Armenia—Just a few hours before the start of their “Let God’s Kingdom Come!” District Convention at a rented auditorium in Vanadzor, Armenia, Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced to leave the facility because the owner refused to honor the contract, effectively canceling the Witnesses’ convention.
Approximately 600 Witnesses planned to attend the three-day convention scheduled for June 10-12, 2011. When the Witnesses arrived for the program, the entrance to the auditorium was locked. The owner claimed that he had received a telephone call from someone threatening to bomb the facility if it was used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The owner also told representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses that he was willing to allow the convention to take place only if he received approval from the Armenian authorities. Despite appeals to the police and regional authorities by representatives of the legally registered community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Republic of Armenia, the convention was canceled.
In a meeting with representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mayor of the Lori District (which includes the city of Vanadzor) confirmed that he had called the owner of the convention facility on June 9, 2011, and told the owner to “consider the consequences” of renting the facility to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The mayor then stated that his comments to the owner were not meant as a threat, but rather a statement that violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses from members of a youth group could break out at the facility. The mayor agreed to notify the owner on the evening of Friday, June 10, 2011, that the mayor’s office had no objection to the convention being held the following two days. However, the owner chose not to provide the facility to the Witnesses for the convention.
The cancellation of this convention follows a pattern of harassment and denial of religious freedom that occurred during the summer of 2010 when owners of convention sites in Vanadzor, Gyumri and Yerevan were pressured into canceling venue contracts made with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most owners were too fearful to reveal the source of the pressure, but some described visits by representatives of the authorities who were said to be carrying out orders from higher governmental authorities. On October 8, 2010, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia wrote to President Serge Sargsyan, respectfully requesting his assistance so that the Witnesses can exercise their right to hold peaceful, annual religious conventions without interference. The Witnesses also requested that the President intervene on their behalf with local authorities to protect their right to assemble, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Armenia: Tigran Harutyunyan, Tel. +374 93 900 482
Europe: European Association of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses, Tel. +44 20 8906 2211; Tel. +32 2 782 0015
United States: David Semonian, Office of Public Information Tel. +1 718 560 5600
Last updated 14 June 2011 15:26:58 GMT
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