Russian conscientious objectors denied alternative service


RIA Novosti, 22 April 2016


Russian protestants consider the appeal to the European Court for Human Rights by Adventists, the cousins Vladimir and Dmitry Salnikov, to be legitimate. They had been drafted into the army, despite their religious convictions and request for alternative service. This opinion was expressed Friday to RIA Novosti by the first assistant of the ruling bishop of the Russian Associated Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostals), Konstantin Bendas.


Earlier the newspaper Vedomosti reported that the Salnikov cousins, who belong to the Church of Christian Seventh-Day Adventists, were drafted into the army, despite the fact that they had informed the Saransk draft board beforehand of their religious convictions—that they "do not use violence and do not take up arms"—and they asked to be sent to alternative civilian service. After conscription, the applicants refused to take the oath.


Konstantin Bendas explained that of Russian protestants, which include Adventists, "only a small portion maintain pacifist views," while as a rule this is not a commonly agreed upon position of any confession and only "a private, personal view and conviction of individual believers, as in this case."


"We discussed this question at a session of the Commission for Harmonizing of Inter-ethnic and Inter-religious Relations of the Public Chamber of the RF back in the middle of last year, when this situation had just arisen. I would like to note that these young people did not refuse to fulfill their civic duties and they did not ask to leave them at home on a comfortable sofa but they requested alternative civilian service, which is guaranteed by law," Bendas said.


He added that in his opinion, alternative civilian service even is "somewhat more severe than military service is for many conscripts." "To work almost two years, most likely as an orderly in hospitals for serious illnesses, tuberculosis, and psychiatric cases, with severe contingents. And they were ready to do that. They did not run off and hide," the representative of the Christians of Evangelical Faith noted.


Bendas reported that during the discussion in the Public Chamber he had the opportunity to familiarize himself with a full pack of documents, including responses of the draft board to the applications of the conscripts. He said that the Salnikov cousins are "profound believers." In childhood they went to Sunday school and their father was a minister. The news agency's source called the response that the Salnikovs received in the draft board "strange." "For some reason the draft board refused to acknowledge their convictions as sincere."


Bendas said that such a decision seems especially surprising when one considers that alternative civilian service is quite unpopular among youth at the present time. "According to some information, in recent years the total applications for alternative civilian service is approximately 600. In our union, in recent times there was one such application, and that was more than ten years ago. On the contrary, we have different precedents. When young people want to go to serve but they are given a deferment to the next draft, because we have more people wishing to serve than there are places in the army," the representative of the Pentecostal union added.


At the same time, the news agency's interlocutor elaborated that he does not possess information about whether the Salnikovs appealed this particular case to any judicial instances on Russian territory. (tr. by PDS, posted 22 April 2016)

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