KYRGYZSTAN: Baptist Conscientious Objector Threatened with Psychiatric Treatment?

Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 13 February 2002

Despite assurances from the authorities that a young Baptist has not yet been categorised as "mad" simply for refusing to swear the military oath and bear arms, fellow Baptists in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek have told Keston News Service that they remain worried he could be forcibly sent to a mental hospital at any moment. Officials have repeatedly claimed that Dmitri Shukhov, who has belonged to a Baptist church in Bishkek since July 1999, is ineligible for alternative service because his church refuses on principle to register with the authorities.

Shukhov's church, like all churches belonging to the International Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists operating in the former Soviet republics, believes registration would entail unacceptable state controls over its activity. Kyrgyz law does not require religious groups to register.

In an appeal dated 18 January, of which Keston has received a copy, Shukhov reported that he was first called up for military service in November 2000 and was deemed fit for active service. "At the unit I declared straightaway that I would not take the oath of allegiance and that I would not bear weapons either. For this reason I was sent home after 10 days."

He was called up again in November 2001. "The head of the military registration and enlistment office threatened that if I refused to take the oath of allegiance he would refer the case to the public prosecutor's office. I was again deemed fit for active service at a medical commission, but when the psychiatrist found out that I was refusing to take the oath of allegiance he would not let me off and warned that I would be tried for that. I explained that I was ready for any outcome and that I stand by my beliefs. This angered the commission, and the psychiatrist issued me with a certificate approving treatment at a mental hospital." Shukhov insists that he is in good mental health.

Yevgeni Kozlovsky, a fellow member of Shukhov's church, declared that the church would not compromise its principles by applying for registration. "The main problem is that we refuse to be registered with the secular authorities because we believe that if we do, the state will be able to interfere in the church's business," he told Keston in Bishkek on 9 February. He noted that members of registered Protestant communities are allowed to perform alternative service. "But we cannot give up our principles and apply for registration." Kozlovsky reported that Shukhov was the first church member to have encountered problems. "The authorities understood our position."

"Shukhov is currently at home," Kozlovsky added, "but we are constantly afraid that he will be removed forcibly to a mental hospital. I want to stress that he has not refused army service, he has only refused to take the oath of allegiance and to bear weapons, because that is against his beliefs."

"I am well aware of the problem of Dmitri Shukhov," the head of the commission for conscription and manpower of the armed forces, Colonel Nikolai Ratushnyak, told Keston on 12 February. "We have had literally a barrage of angry faxes from every part of the world. You will understand that we are acting in line with the law. If the church were registered, there would not be a problem, and we would send Dmitri Shukhov on alternative service. A year ago we simply took pity on Dmitri and sent him home from the military unit. If we had not done that, then he would have landed up in prison. I then met Dmitri's mother and explained to her that if her son refused to take the oath of allegiance again a year later, then he would be put in prison for refusing military service. She replied to me: 'As God wills - so be it'. I also want to stress that no-one has 'registered Shukhov as mad', as his fellow-believers assert. The psychiatrists' commission may come to the conclusion that Shukhov is healthy. Moreover, as far as I know, the doctors have not so far forced Shukhov to be treated in a mental hospital. He is at home, and no-one is bothering him."

"An unbelievable row has been stirred up around Shukhov," the deputy chairman of the state commission for religious affairs, Natalya Shadrova, complained to Keston on 12 February. "The church he belongs to refuses to be registered. And no-one has repealed the law on military service." (END)