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Jehovah's Witnesses Denied Registration In Nagorno-Karabakh

Authorities in the ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region are refusing to allow Jehovah's Witnesses and another nontraditional religious group from legally operating in the self-proclaimed republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

A new law adopted by the Karabakh parliament obligated all religious denominations to reregister with a government department on religious affairs within a six-month period.

Department head Ashot Sargsian told RFE/RL on July 31 that Jehovah's Witnesses and another religious group, Rebirth of Fire, were effectively banned on the basis of a "negative expert conclusion" that cites proselytism and "methods of psychological influence" by those groups as being in violation of the law in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Artur Ispirian, a Yerevan-based lawyer for the Jehovah's Witnesses, dismissed the explanation, saying the Karabakh law does not define proselytism.

Levon Sardarian, a Fire of Rebirth leader, denounced the government claims as "unfounded" and "ludicrous."

Both Ispirian and Sardarian said they will challenge the decision in court. Sardarian told RFE/RL that "we will certainly continue to operate...we are ready for any persecution."

All other religious organizations active in the region have been officially registered. Nagorno-Karabakh was captured from Azerbaijan by Armenian forces in a war that ended in 1994.