Jehovah's Witness in Crimea 'ordered to renounce faith to be drafted into Russian army'

175,000 worshippers criminalised when Russian judges ruled their religion violated anti-extremism law in April

Greg Wilford
Saturday 24 June 2017 19:39

Crimean authorities may have breached international laws by ordering a Jehovah's Witness to prove he has abandoned his faith before being drafted into the occupying Russian army, according to a human rights monitor.

Members of the Christian denomination, which is deeply opposed to military service, were previously allowed to sign up for alternative civilian service in Russia, where men have to complete a year's draft in the army between the ages of 18-27.

But there have been several reports of Jehovah's Witnesses being denied the right to serve as civilians after the religion was banned by the country's Supreme Court in April.

Anti-Putin protests: Russian police arrest hundreds as thousands rally against Kremlin corruption 175,000 worshippers were criminalised when judges ruled that their religion violated an anti-extremism law, paving the way for 395 local chapters to be shut down.

Russian military officials in Crimea have since told a Jehovah's Witness to provide evidence he has changed his faith before he is allowed to join their ranks, according to Jehovah's Witnesses In Russia.

Paperwork said to have been issued by a military centre in the region said Jehovah's Witnesses could start civilian service "only on condition of renouncing their religious beliefs".

The order is thought to breach the Geneva Convention, which bars armies from conscripting citizens in occupied territories, stating: "The Occupying Power may not compel protected persons to serve in its armed or auxiliary forces.

"No pressure or propaganda which aims at securing voluntary enlistment is permitted.”

Russia has continued to conscript soldiers from Crimea into its army, despite the United Nations recognising them as an occupying force in the region following a resolution passed in December 2016.

Crimean conscripts are deployed across Russia, which appears to violate another Geneva Convention article barring "individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power".

Vladimir Putin has faced calls to stop conscription in Crimea from Ukraine's foreign affairs ministry, according to Newsweek.

Jehovah's Witnesses have reported other human rights violations, including Russian authorities raiding peaceful meetings, following the Supreme Court ruling, which is set to be appealed in July.

A Danish member has been arrested and is reportedly facing up to 10 years in prison.

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