RUSSIA: Christian Conscientious Objector Imprisoned.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 19 April 2001

A 20-year-old Pentecostal Christian, Aleksandr Volkov, from the city of Novocheboksary in the Volga republic of Chuvashia, has been imprisoned for six months for refusing to perform military service. The Novocheboksary city court found his Christian convictions ‘unproven’ and sentenced him on 13 March.

 Aleksandr Volkov is a member of the Christian Evangelical Church ‘Christ’s Church of Love and Faith’, to which his mother and elder brother also belong. He was called up for active military service on 17 March 2000, but submitted a declaration to the call-up commission that military service was against his convictions and that he had the right to carry out alternative civilian service, under Article 59 of the Constitution. However he was refused the option of alternative service.

On 7 August 2000 the Novocheboksary public prosecutor’s office brought a criminal case against Volkov for his rejection of the summons to military service. It came to court on 12 March 2001. Since his imprisonment on 13 March he has been held in investigative solitary confinement.

Volkov's lawyer, Aleksandr Chugunov of the Slavyansky legal centre, called the court's verdict 'ignorant'. He told Keston News Service on 3 April: 'By law the public prosecutor's office must provide evidence to the court of the guilt of the person on trial, and prove that he has no Christian convictions'. He thought that the judge had at first been inclined to impose a fine, which is normal in such cases. In March 2000, for example, a resident of Sverdlovsk region, Oleg Smirnov had been found guilty under this same article and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to two months’ salary, i.e. 3,000 roubles. Chugunov has appealed to the Supreme Court of the Chuvash Republic against the decision of the Novocheboksary city court. According to Aleksandr’s relatives, he was urged not to appeal, with the incentive of changing the jail sentence to one of deportation.

Judge Nadezhda Kudryashova told Keston on 5 April that the court believed that Volkov simply did not want to serve in the army and was using Christian convictions as his excuse. ‘He was offered the opportunity of service with the Ministry for Emergency Situations, where he could have acted out his Christian convictions by saving people from collapsed buildings or at sites of disasters. He would not even have had to carry weapons’, said the judge.

The law on alternative service in Russia has not yet been adopted. Lev Levinson, adviser to people’s deputy Sergei Kovalev at the State Duma, told Keston on 5 April that the law has been in its drafting stages for 12 years. Two variations of the law had recently been submitted for consideration by the government. ‘The Constitution guarantees the right to alternative civilian service; it should be an automatic right, but in our country you have to make an effort to get it’, says Levinson. ‘According to the Ministry of Defence, last year 2,000 people availed themselves of this right. We know of three cases of people being taken into custody as a result of a rejection by the court. As a rule, the higher courts overturn these decisions.’ (END)