Kazakhstan: Conscientious objector's 6 months in military detention

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Author(s)
Felix Corley, Forum 18

 

In autumn 2022, Jehovah's Witness Daniil Smal presented the Conscription Office a certificate from the Jehovah's Witness Centre that he is a "religious minister". This should have exempted him from conscription. He was summoned on 17 May 2023, and forcibly transferred to a military unit. He was freed only in November 2023 when Almaty Military Garrison Court ruled his conscription illegal. The Military Court rejected the military's appeal in April 2024. Smal's conscientious objection "may lead to mass negative consequences and wide public resonance", the military claimed.

Jehovah's Witness Daniil Smal spent from 17 May 2023 in detention in a military unit until Almaty Military Garrison Court ruled on 9 November 2023 that the call-up decision in his case should be revoked and he should be freed. On 16 April 2024, the Military Court rejected the Conscription Office's appeal against the decision. The Conscription Office did not appeal further to the Supreme Court by the deadline and the decision entered legal force on 23 May.

"Any type of military service, whether involving the use of weapons or not, is incompatible with my religious beliefs," Smal told Forum 18.

"The conscription of D.V. Smal for compulsory military service contrary to his clearly expressed religious beliefs, which do not allow him to perform military service, violated his right to freedom of conscience and religion," the November 2023 decision noted (see below).

Almat Sarsenov, head of Kostanai Region Defence Department, appealed against the November 2023 decision. He claimed that Smal's conscientious objection "may lead to mass negative consequences and wide public resonance". Sarsenov did not answer his phone each time Forum 18 called.

The April 2024 Military Court decision ruled that Smal's conscription had been illegal. "According to the practice of the UN Human Rights Committee, the right to refuse military service on the basis of strongly held religious beliefs is an integral part of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and is protected by Article 18 of the [ICCPR]," it declared.

The military authorities did not appeal further by the deadline and the decision entered legal force on 23 May, the Military Court Chancellery told Forum 18.

Kazakhstan provides no alternative to those who cannot perform compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Jehovah's Witnesses, some Council of Churches Baptists, and members of a smaller Christian community refuse on grounds of conscience to serve with weapons or to swear the military oath (see forthcoming F18News article).

Article 36 of the 2012 Law on Military Service and the Status of Military Personnel includes among those exempted from conscription in peacetime "clergy of registered religious associations".

Jehovah's Witness young men are seen by the community as unpaid "religious ministers", and so can gain exemption from military conscription. Military Conscription Offices generally accept the certificates issued to the young men by the Jehovah's Witness Centre in Almaty designating them as "religious ministers". Sometimes proving this to the Conscription Office can be difficult.

The regime's proposed wide-ranging repressive amendments to the Religion Law and other laws include a provision which would reduce the categories of people who would be eligible to be exempted from compulsory military service.

A proposed amendment to Article 1 of the Religion Law – in the draft text seen by Forum 18 in early 2024 - would change the term "clergy" (which includes "religious ministers") to "religious servant". This restricts those designated by a registered religious organisation as doing "spiritual or preaching service" to those "employed under a legal document of a registered religious association issued on the basis of a completed work contract".

This would prevent all "religious ministers" who are not formally employed by a registered religious organisation from being exempted from military conscription.

It remains unknown when the amendments will reach parliament.

Author information

Felix Corley, Forum 18. This is a shortened version of the article "Kazakhstan: Conscientious objector's 6 months in military detention", which was first published on the Forum 18 website on 24th May 2024.

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About the authors

Felix Corley, Forum 18. This is a shortened version of the article "Kazakhstan: Conscientious objector's 6 months in military detention", which was first published on the Forum 18 website on 24th May 2024.

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