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ICC NOTE: A Jehovah’s Witness has had his appeal rejected by a Belarusian regional court in response to his objection of required military service. Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of a handful of religious minorities who object to military service based on their religious convictions. They have been a target of persecution in many countries, especially former soviet states. For Belarus, the rejected appeal comes one week prior to the implementation of its first ever law allowing alternative civilian service for some, but not all, conscientious objectors. Kalina, the objector, was convicted in May for refusal to call-up for military service receiving a fine of 1,050 USD which comes to an estimated 100 days of work in the region of Brest. 

8/4/2016 Brest, Belarus (Forum 18) – On 24 June, Brest Regional Court rejected an appeal by 21-year-old Jehovah Witness conscientious objector Viktor Kalina against his conviction and large fine for refusing to do compulsory military service on grounds of religious conscience. The rejection of the appeal came one week before Belarus’ Alternative Service Law came into force on 1 July. The Law for the first time allows an alternative civilian service for some, but not all, conscientious objectors.

With the help of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, in late July Kalina lodged further supervisory appeals against the decision to the General Prosecutor’s Office and Brest Regional Court (see below).

Kalina was convicted after a second trial in May of violating Criminal Code Article 435, Part 1. This punishes “Refusal of call-up to military service” with penalties of either a fine or up to two years’ imprisonment. The Court fined Kalina 21,000,000 old Belarusian Roubles (currency superseded on 1 July) which is now 2,100 new Belarusian Roubles (about 8,800 Norwegian Kroner, 930 Euros, or 1,050 US Dollars). This represents about 100 days’ average wages in Brest Region, according to June 2016 figures from the National Statistical Committee.

The new trial came after Kalina’s acquittal on the same charges in September 2015, in which a judge noted that he used “his constitutional right to ask for alternative rather than military service which contradicts his ethical and religious views, and he should not bear responsibility for the evasion of military call-up procedures”.

Following the acquittal, the General Prosecutor’s Office filed a protest to the Supreme Court insisting that Kalina’s reasons for refusing military service were not well-grounded. The Court agreed on 18 March 2016, claiming that service in the military Railway Troops is for conscientious objectors. The judges in Kalina’s 2016 second criminal trial and latest appeal insisted against the Constitution and international human rights law that Kalina could serve in the Railway Troops. Kalina commented to Forum 18 that “alternative service exists now, but not for me” (see below).

New Law allows some – but not all – to perform alternative service

Belarus’ first-ever Alternative Service Law took effect from 1 July 2016. It allows some, but not all, young men who are conscientious objectors to perform a civilian alternative service instead of compulsory military service.

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