by Tatevik Shahunyan
"The constitution protects religious freedom; however, some laws and policies restrict religious freedom", says the US State Department's "International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. Armenia".
According to the document, there were reports of obstacles faced by religious organizations in building places of worship and discrimination in schools against religious minority children.
In the meantime, the document says that the Parliament approved changes to the alternative service law establishing civilian control over alternative labor in lieu of military service. Following these amendments the government released all Jehovah's Witnesses serving sentences for refusing on religious grounds to perform mandatory military or alternative labor service.
"The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3 million (July 2013 estimate). According to the latest 2011 population census results, approximately 92 percent of the population identify themselves as affiliated with the Armenian Apostolic Church. Other religious groups, constituting less than 5 percent each of the total population", says the Report.
"The law governing religious groups does not explicitly mandate registration of religious groups, but only registered groups have legal status. Unregistered groups may not publish more than 1,000 copies of newspapers or magazines, rent meeting places, broadcast programs on television or radio, or officially sponsor visitors' visas, although individual members may do so".
"On April 18, the website "Freedom of Religion" reported the February 28 dismissal of Armine Davtyan, a professor at the Armenian State Pedagogical University. Davtyan claimed that she had been dismissed on religious grounds following the rejection of her doctoral thesis on peculiarities of spiritual education in high schools. According to the media report, the university claimed she had been removed as a result of general layoff. Davtyan noted that, while not a member of any religious group, her views differed from those of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and this had become evident during her doctoral thesis defense. Davtyan claimed she had been dismissed for these views", says the Report.
The document also criticizes the Armenian mass media. "Most broadcast media outlets were owned by politicians in the ruling party or politically connected businessmen. Media outlets published inaccurate articles portraying religious minorities as criminals and spies. Many inflammatory statements did not specify a particular religious group, but instead aimed to create general intolerance toward all religious minorities. Religious groups also reported increased intolerance and threats in social networks", the document says.