- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 April 25, 2003 

Reinstated: Police department loses case against member of Jehovah's Witness

Zemfira Voskanyan fired by the head of personnel department Arshaluis Budaghyan has been reinstated by the court.

The head of the financial subdivision of the Stepanavan Police Department Zemfira Voskanyan, who was dismissed from her position for her religious beliefs has been reintated.

Voskanyan, a Jehovah's Witness, applied to the Court of First Instance of the Lori Region to be reinstated to her position. The first court session began April 9 in Vanadzor. During Tuesday's (April 22) court session deputy head of the personnel department of the Lori Regional Police Arshaluis Budaghyan read the order of the head of Police Department, according to which Voskanyan is restored to her previous position with back pay till February when she was dismissed. (Click here to read last week's ArmeniaNow story about her case.)

But the reinstatement didn't satisfy Voskanyan's demands.

Voskanyan's dismissal conforms to order 551-A issued last December by the head of the Republic of Armenia Police, Hayk Harutyunyan. According to No. 551-A, police department employees who are members of any religion other than Armenian Apostolic Church must be identified. And, those who do not recant their faith are subject to being fired.

"I'm afraid that I can be fired again as 551-A order is still functioning," Voskanyan said at the session.

During a previous session attorney Drew Holyner, who represents Voskanyan, filed a motion to have Order 551-A declared unconstitutional.

"Decision 551-A is closely related to the discharge. Even if the court restores her rights for the work, she can be fired again at any second according to that law," Holyner stated.

Another Voskanyan attorney Levon Margaryan said in court that Order 551-A can become a basis for dismissing not only Jehovah's Witnesses but those of other religious beliefs. He shared Holyner's argument that it contradicts international agreements on freedom of conscience and the Constitution of Armenia and should be recognized as illegal.

However, judge Mushegh Harutyunyan dismissed the appeal, saying that he has a right to accept an additional appeal during one session only in case it concerns the same parties. In this case the head of the Republic of Armenia Police Hayk Harutyunyan is regarded as the opposite side and not the Stepanavan Police Department. Both sides can appeal against Harutyunyan's decision.

At the end of the court session the judge stated that he dismissed the case because of the "absence of argument".

"Of course, we are satisfied that Zemfira is restored to her position, however, the problem hasn't been resolved yet," Holyner said. "The danger of the Order 551-A will always be threatening her. We still have to discuss what we are going to do."

For the present moment the attorney is awaiting his client's decision on whether to appeal.

If she is not satisfied with reinstatement and wishes instead to challenge the order, she must first appeal the Wednesday decision, then proceed with her complaint against the order.

Voskanyan, an 18-year employee of the department, was dismissed in accordance with the following paragraph of the legislation, "when a worker's or an employee's discrepancy with the position they hold is determined." The police department considered the fact of her being Jehovah's Wintness as discrepancy with the position she holds.

"Anybody can be dismissed in accordance with the order like that only if there are two grounds such as qualification and health condition," explained the judge, after court had adjorned. "It's good that the police department accepted its mistake."

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  Photo of the week
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Pain in Paint

Yesterday (April 24) members of Mihr youth organization gathered in a park near the State Conservatory where they used black (tragedy) and red (blood) paint to depict Mt. Ararat from its western side. On a white canvas they painted names of villages where Genocide took place.



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