Amnesty International has called on the Belarusian authorities to release a conscientious objector, found guilty by the Minsk District Court of “draft evasion” and sentenced to three months in prison on Monday.
Ivan Mikhailau had refused military service because bearing arms contradicts his religious beliefs as an active member of the Messianic Jewish community. He was arrested in the town of Salihorsk, south of the capital, Minsk, on 15 December 2009.
Amnesty International considers Ivan Mikhailau to be a prisoner of conscience, detained for the peaceful expression of his beliefs.
Ivan Mikhailau’s lawyer told Amnesty International that his family intends to appeal against the verdict. His detention since 15 December counts towards his three-month sentence. He remains in the pre-trial detention centre in Zhodino – a town about 50km north east of Minsk – where he has been held since shortly after his arrest.
Military service is compulsory in Belarus for all males between the ages of 18 and 27. Even though the Belarusian Constitution states that citizens have a right to alternative civilian service, no such option is provided for in practice.
The right to refuse military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Belarus is a party.
According to his lawyer, after being summoned to military service in December 2008 Ivan Mikhailau told the Minsk district military that he was unable to carry out military service for religious reasons. Instead he requested to take part in civilian service as an alternative to military service.
In January 2009 the authorities denied his request on the grounds that an alternative civilian service does not exist. Ivan Mikhailau approached the military authorities a second time asking if he could substitute military service with service in the reserves. In June 2009 his request was again denied and the authorities then assigned Ivan Mikhailau to full-time military service.
Amnesty International is calling on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ivan Mikhailau. Furthermore, the organization urges the authorities to ensure that Ivan Mikhailau and other conscientious objectors are either absolved from military service or permitted to wait until an alternative service is in place.
The organization urges the authorities to adopt a law that provides for a genuine civilian alternative to military service and recalls that Belarus is a state party to the ICCPR, and therefore obliged to recognize the right to conscientious objection.
On 3 November 2006, the Human Rights Committee ruled that the prosecution and conviction of two conscientious objectors by the Republic of Korea for their refusal to perform compulsory military service had breached Article 18 of the ICCPR as no civilian alternative was available.