Young Belarusian must pay for his faith

GOMEL, Belarus-"I try to be faithful to the Bible in every aspect of my life and follow the teachings it contains. For me, this includes believing that a person should not be trained for or participate in warfare," stated Dmitry Smyk, who is one of Jehovah's Witnesses. According to the Belarus Constitution, all citizens have the right to choose alternative civilian service or military service.

Despite this Constitutional right, on the November 6, 2009, the Tsentralniy District Court of the city of Gomel, fined Smyk the sum of 3,500,000 rubles (approximately $1,295) for refusing military duty because of his religious convictions. On December 9, 2009, the Gomel Regional Court upheld this decision, and on January 22, 2010, the Chairman of the Gomel District Court affirmed the lower court's decision. Smyk's reaction was: "It appears that on paper I have the right to alternative civilian service, but in reality I cannot exercise it."

The military recruiting station and the prosecutor's office unanimously declared that in the Republic of Belarus there is no alternative service. Colonel V. Tsatsarin explained to the court that in the Presidential Decree on Selection for Compulsory [Military] Service, the option for alternative civilian service is not mentioned. "The decree has legal force. Neither we nor the draft board can violate the law," the colonel said.

As noted by the representative of the Belorusian Helsinki Committee, V. Odinochenko, who was present at the judicial hearing: "They [Jehovah's Witnesses] do not serve in the army. They did not serve even in the Soviet Union, when there was severe punishment for that. They also refuse to serve in the army now." At the same time, Article 57 of the Constitution of Belarus provides every citizen the right to choose between alternative civilian service and military service. All rights guaranteed by the Constitution should have been implemented within two years after its 1994 adoption. However, nearly 16 years have gone by since the adoption of the Constitution, and there is still no law for implementing alternative civilian service.


Partners: Social Network