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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activists Condemn Draft-Dodging Verdict

Leading advocates of conscientious objectors' rights Tuesday blasted the guilty verdict handed down last week in a Moscow court against Alexander Seryogin for draft-dodging and warned that the decision reflected a threat to the rule of law in Russia.

"Why do we believe that a man can fulfill his duty to society only by serving in the military? Why could this duty not be fulfilled by helping the sick, the poor and the suffering as in most other countries?" State Duma deputy Valery Borshchev said Tuesday.

Judge Ivan Ivanov's ruling, reached after a one-hour trial Thursday in a Moscow district court, cast the primacy of Russia's constitution into doubt, and contravened international agreements signed by the Russian government, said Nikolai Khramov, secretary of the Anti-Military Radical Association.

Seryogin, who requested alternative civilian service and refused to serve in the army after receiving his call-up notice last spring, was given a suspended two-year sentence. He plans to appeal in the Moscow municipal court.

The right to alternative service is guaranteed in Article 59, Part 3 of Russia's constitution. When Russia joined the Council of Europe, it further signed an agreement requiring member states to offer alternative service to conscripts.

But a federal law setting forth the regulations and procedures for civilian service, foreseen by the constitution, has never been passed by the State Duma. Ivanov cited the lack of this law in delivering his guilty verdict, and said that until the law is passed, he considered Article 59, Part 3 "not in force."

Borshchev is a member of the working group tasked with producing a compromise on the alternative service law in the Duma's defense committee. The chief opponents of a liberal draft of the law are considered to be committee chairman Lev Rokhlin, an army general, and the Defense Ministry.

Borshchev said the bill, in its latest version, contains key provisions securing the right to request conscientious objector status for non-religious reasons and freeing applicants from defending their beliefs before the draft board.

But the chances this draft will pass in the Duma, he added, were "no better than 50-50."