Young pacifist Baptists in Russia seek alternatives to the war

Four members of the evangelical denomination in Siberia and the Far East see their civilian service applications rejected.

Forum 18 News · 08 JANUARY 2024 · 16:16 CET

A city in Russia. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="">Nikolay Vorobyev</a>.,
A city in Russia. / Photo: Nikolay Vorobyev.

In Russia, military officials have rejected the faith-based reasons of four young Christians who asked for an alternative civilian service to military.

As Forum 18 News reports, two brothers from the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region failed in their attempts to have their refusals ruled unlawful in court and are now preparing to appeal. “Faith forbids him to take up arms, kill, or take oaths”, a witness for one of the young men told the court. The father of the other brother testified that he “is a deeply religious person and will not take up arms or take an oath, as this is prohibited by his religion”.

Furthermore, a young man in the Krasnoyarsk Region, saw his lawsuit against military authorities declined twice and will be subject to conscription in the future.

As of mid-December, another Baptist Christian from Primorye Region had successfully challenged the refusal of his request to do civil service in court, thus gaining the right to have his application re-examined.

In contrast, a higher-level Conscription Commission in Kemerovo Region granted a fifth Baptist Christian the right to undertake alternative service after his initial application was rejected at the district level.

All five young men are members of the Baptist Council of Churches, a Christian movement that has a strong pacifist tradition, according to Forum 18 News. While the church does not formally oppose the undertaking of military service, when Baptist conscripts apply for alternative civilian service, church communities tend to support them in collating documents for the Conscription Commission and going to court if refused.


The Constitution and religious beliefs about war

All Russian men must carry out military service for 12 months between the ages of 18 and 27, after which they are enrolled in the reserves (and thereby become subject to mobilisation – as occurred in the autumn of 2022).

Article 59, Part 3 of the Russian Constitution states: “A citizen of the Russian Federation, if the performance of military service contradicts his beliefs or religion, as well as in other cases established by federal law, has the right to replace it with alternative civilian service”.

Despite the Constitution setting out the right to alternative civilian service, this is not unconditional. Conscripts must demonstrate to Conscription Commissions that they have well-founded and strongly held beliefs which preclude their performing military service. If a Conscription Commission does not accept that a conscript genuinely holds such beliefs, then it can refuse his application.

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