AI Index: EUR 17/10/95

                                Amnesty International
                                International Secretariat
                                1 Easton Street
                                London WC1X 8DJ
                                United Kingdom
                                Tel: (44) (71) 413 5500
                                Fax: (44) (71) 956 1157


          Imprisonment of conscientious objector

               Andreas Apostoli Vassiliou

On 3 February 1995, conscientious objector Andreas Apostoli Vassiliou, was
sentenced by Nicosia Military Court to nine months' imprisonment for
refusing to perform military service. 

     When Andreas Apostoli Vassiliou is released he will probably be
called up again.  Upon refusing once again to perform military service he
is likely to face yet a further term of imprisonment. As a Jehovah's
Witness, he is opposed to performing any kind of military service.  He is
one of 18 conscientious objectors currently in prison in Cyprus serving
prison sentences of up to 12 months for their refusal to perform military
service or reservist exercises.  As far as Amnesty International is aware,
all of them are Jehovah's Witnesses.  

     Amnesty International considers Andreas Apostoli Vassiliou and all
other imprisoned conscientious objectors in Cyprus to be prisoners of
conscience and calls on the Cypriot authorities to release them
immediately and introduce a completely civilian service for conscientious
objectors of non-punitive length. 

     In January 1992 the Cypriot House of Representatives headed by former
President George Vassiliou passed legislation recognizing for the first
time in Cyprus the right to have conscientious objections to military
service.  The legislation made provision for alternative service which
was, however, out of line with international standards in a number of
crucial respects.  

     It provides for "unarmed military service" inside and outside military
camps.  Those who choose unarmed service without military uniform and
outside the military camps have to serve 42 months; those who choose
unarmed service with military uniform, inside the military area but
without the obligation of carrying a weapon, have to serve 34 months.  In
both above cases the length of the unarmed service (42 or 34 months as
against the 26 months of ordinary military service) remains punitive and
conscientious objectors have also to perform supplementary service
equivalent to periods of reservist exercises (lasting from several days
to several weeks) at regular intervals until the age of 50.  The right to
transfer to alternative service from military service is suspended during
periods of emergency or general mobilization.  The right to conscientious
objection is open to conscientious objectors on ethical, moral,
humanitarian, philosophical, political, as well as religious grounds. 

     Soon after the legislation was passed, Amnesty International urged the
former government to bring the new legislation on conscientious objection into
line with international recommendations. In March 1992 former President George
Vassiliou informed Amnesty International that an entirely civilian
service would be available for objectors on a variety of grounds but that
the authorities did not consider the length of the alternative service to
be punitive, especially given current relations with Turkey and the
occupation of part of the island by Turkish armed forces, nor would they
permit people who developed conscientious objections during periods of
emergency or mobilization to switch to alternative civilian service. 

     According to the most recent information available to Amnesty
International, it is necessary for those called up for military service
to enlist before they may apply to perform alternative service. This
procedure would be unacceptable to most concientious objectors and as far
as Amnesty International knows, no one in Cyprus has yet applied for
recognition as a conscientious objector under the new legislation.  By
mid-1992 convictions had resumed at their previous rate with conscientious
objectors being sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment than ever.  

     On 14 February 1993 elections were won by Glafcos Clerides, who was
sworn in on 28 February.  Since then Amnesty International has called on
President Clerides and his government to address the problem of
conscientious objection and to take steps to modify and implement the
legislation passed in January 1992 so that it reflects international
standards adopted on conscientious objection.

Position of the Jehovah's Witnesses

On a number of occasions before the legislation was passed, representatives 
of the Jehovah's Witness community in Cyprus requested meetings with
representatives of the former government in order to clarify its position
on alternative service in the hope that the government would organize
alternative civilian service in such a way that it would provide a
workable solution.  However, these requests were turned down.  

     Given that the former government was well aware that the vast
majority of those affected by the lack of any alternative civilian service
were Jehovah's Witnesses and that it was the imprisonment of such men
which prompted the drafting of such legislation in the first place, this
attitude pointed to a lack of willingness on the part of the government to
find a workable solution.   

International recommendations on conscientious objection

Cyprus is a member of the Council of Europe and the United Nations and a
participating state in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe (OSCE), formerly CSCE.  These bodies have adopted the following
resolutions and recommendations, all of which urge member states to
recognize the right to conscientious objection and adjust their national
legislation to make provision for alternative civilian service:

i)   The United Nations Commission on Human Rights: Resolution 1989/59,
which was reaffirmed in 1991 (1991/65), recognizes "the right of everyone
to have conscientious objections to military service as a legitimate
exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as
laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as
well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights" and recommends that Member States provide alternative service "in
principle of a non-combatant or civilian character, in the public interest
and not of a punitive nature".

ii)   Council of Europe: Recommendation No. R (87) 8 of the Committee of
Ministers to Member States Regarding Conscientious Objection to Compulsory
Military Service, recommends that governments of member states make
provision in their legislation for conscientious objectors to have the
right to perform alternative service which is not of a punitive nature.
However, the Cypriot Government has reserved the right not to comply with
the recommendation in paragraph 9 that alternative service "shall be in
principle civilian and in the public interest".

iii)   At the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension
of the CSCE in 1990 the participating States of the Conference, which
included Cyprus, noted that the UN Commission on Human Rights has
recognized the right of everyone to have conscientious objections to
military service and agreed to consider introducing, where this has not
yet been done, various forms of alternative civilian service in the public
interest and of a non-punitive nature.