Armenia Evangelicals Under Pressure Amid New Legislation

Sunday, July 17, 2011

armenia-mapYEREVAN/BUDAPEST (Worthy News)-- Rights activists and religious groups in Armenia say new legislation will increase intolerance towards the country's evangelical Christians and other minorities, some of whom already face prosecution for their church activities.

In statements obtained by Worthy News Friday, July 15, they criticized a proposed new 'Religion Law' as well as changes to the 'Law on Relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian Apostolic Church' and to the Criminal and Administrative Codes.

"In practice they would be used to repress religious organizations," warned Stepan Danielyan,who represents the Yerevan-based Collaboration for Democracy Center.

"This is a kind of theatrical farce," added Evangelical Pastor René Leonian in a statement distributed by rights group Forum 18.

He spoke as his colleague, Pentecostal Pastor Vladimir Bagdasaryan, was preparing to hear a possible quilty verdict in a controversial trial.

''ATTACKING'' JOURNALISTS

Bagdasaryan was prosecuted for allegedly "attacking" journalists following "false claims" in media that the suspect of killing his parents in the coastal city of Sevan is a Jehovah's Witness,stressed Forum 18, which closely monitored the case.

The troubles began when priests of the Armenian Apostolic Church allegedly took a Shant TV crew to Sevan's Pentecostal Church following the November, 2010, murders.

Pastor Bagdasaryan claimed he was told by a priest that they bought the journalists to his churchbecause "the Jehovah's Witnesses have no property in the town and meet in homes."

Bagdasaryan said he tried to halt the television crew because they pushed their way up to the second floor after "disrespectfully" asking a church member about her Christian faith.

"Seeing that repeating myself didn't result in change of their actions, I had to cover the camera with one hand. With my other hand I held the journalist's arm, leading him towards the exit. Suddenly, the journalist began to cry out 'why are you hitting me, why are you hitting me?' when in fact, I was just inviting him out gently holding his arm," the pastor added in a statement distributed by Forum 18.

POLICE CALLED

He reportedly said the two journalists only left after he called police.

The priests then took the journalists to the, still constructed, nearby Apostolic Church to tell them in an interview that "sects" such as the Pentecostal Church "teach people to kill their parents."

Armenian Apostolic Bishop Markos Hovhanissian has reportedly confirmed that two priests of his diocese took the Shant TV journalists to the Pentecostal Church in Sevan, but denied they initiated the broadcast.

Christians and rights activists view the case however as a wider, government backed, effort to discredit religious minorities in the former Soviet republic.

Pastor Bagdasaryan said the prosecutor has demanded at the trial that he be convicted and fined 200,000 Drams (about 540 US Dollars) and than be amnestied by the president. "So I won't actually have to pay a fine, but this means I'll still be regarded as guilty and have a criminal record," Pastor Bagdasaryan said. "I feel they'll find me guilty – everything is moving in that direction."

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