23 January 2018, Tuesday, 21:00

Valyantin Stefanovich: Pavel Syarhei may become another prisoner of conscience


A person refusing to serve in the army on personal views cannot be considered to be a draft dodger, a human rights activist is sure.

Political prisoner Pavel Syarhei refused to take the military oath due to his religious views. He may face criminal prosecution. Valyantin Stefanovich, the deputy head of Viasna human rights centre, told charter97.org that one cannot be brought to responsibility for refusal to serve in the army on personal beliefs. Moreover, the Constitution of Belarus guarantees the right to the alternative civilian service:

”A man is not a draft dodger if he refuses to take the oath on religious grounds. It is the exception, because the military service is not absolute. The state should provide the opportunity to have the alternative civilian service for those who cannot serve in the military forces on religious or other grounds.”

The human rights defender says there is the constitutional rights to have the alternative service, but it is not implemented in practice:

“It's an old problem that Belarus still doesn't have the law on the alternative service, though the Constitution provides for having the alternative service. We have the constitutional right, but don't have a law to exercise this right.”

Pavel Syarhei may become one more prisoner of conscience, Valyantin Stefanovich thinks. “If a person is punished for his views and beliefs, he is not just a political prisoner, he is a prisoner of conscience,” the human rights activist says.