Public Discussion on the Draft Law on “Freedom of thought, Conscience and Religion and Religious Organizations”

On June 16 EPF held a public discussion on the draft law on “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion and religious organizations” and other related draft legal acts. The discussion aimed to provide a platform for comprehensive, profound and inclusive considerations of the draft law and developing respective recommendations. Around 50 participants, among which representatives from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ, the author of the law), Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Social Protection, Special Investigative Committee, the Ombudsman of Armenia, religious groups and organizations, CSOs, international organizations  (UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, EU), media. The draft law was  presented by a representative from the MoJ “Center for Legislative Development and Legal Studies” Foundation. Presentations from CSOs and religious organizations on questionable provisions of the draft law followed.

In general, there was a consensus on the major issue of separating the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) from religious organizations, thus making it another legal category with a number of exemptions from limitations (such as preaching at schools, reporting to state revenue committee, oversight by the state, restriction on foreign financing and state financing, etc.) introduced by the draft law. Many religious communities and NGOs found it unnecessary to further discussions around the provisions of the draft law if the law itself is based on discriminatory treatment towards religious organizations as opposed to AAC. A number of other concerns relating to the limitations of freedom of thought, conscious and religion, rights of children, restrictions on charity for religious organizations and from religious organizations, undue restrictive reporting system to the State revenue committee, limited time for public discussions of the law (only 1 month) etc. were expressed.
It was decided in the end of the meeting that EPF will apply to the Ministry of justice of Armenia requesting an official interpretation of the draft law on freedom of thought, conscience and religion if AAC is a subject of suggested draft law and closes of the law will be applied on AAC equally with other religious organizations. 
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