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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Draftee Loses Alternative Service Bid

After an hour of heated discussion in a dank Moscow courtroom Friday, judge Sergei Lebedyev ruled that Alexander Borodin, a 23-year-old conscientious objector, was guilty of dodging the draft.

Under the Russian constitution, conscientious objectors are exempt from compulsory two-year military service. But in his ruling, Lebedyev, presiding judge at the Golovinsky municipal court, ruled that Borodin is guilty and ordered him to pay a 17,000 ruble ($2,808) fine.

Borodin has seven days in which to appeal. If he does not do so, he is liable to be forcibly drafted into the army.

Like thousands of other young men, Borodin, 23, refused to serve in an army renowned for the brutal treatment of its soldiers, cramped living quarters and malnourishment. According to the Defense Ministry, 30,000 young men dodged last year's spring draft alone.

He applied to do alternative service. But, as in almost all similar cases to date, Borodin was found guilty because five years after the constitution came into existence, there is still no federal law setting up alternative service.

Borodin, who is married and has a 6-year-old daughter, got his call-up notice in 1994. "I saw how Russian soldiers died in Chechnya," Borodin said Friday. "I do not want to be a part of such an army. I am convinced we should have a professional army."

He added: "I asked whether I could do alternative service. But they said there was no such thing. They told me they would confiscate my documents and that I would go to prison if I did not serve."

Faced with criminal court proceedings, Borodin approached the Anti-Military Radical Association, or ARA, an organization that lobbies for the rights of conscientious objectors. The ARA advised him to take his case to court.

Article 59 of the Constitution states that "if a citizen's convictions or faith prevent him for carrying arms and also in other instances established in federal law, he has the right to ... alternative civilian service."

That article was backed up by a precedent-setting 1996 Supreme Court ruling, which indicated that religious beliefs or strong convictions were enough to merit exemption from normal service.

However, alternative service so far exists only on paper and the State Duma, parliament's communist and nationalist-dominated lower house, is resisting passing legislation which would make it a reality.

"Instead of the situation being solved in the Duma, it is being debated in hundreds of courtrooms across the country," said Nikolai Khramov, the founder of ARA, who spent four months in prison for refusing to serve in the army.

Diederik Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said Friday's court decision would only serve to drive other conscientious objectors underground.

Borodin's lawyer, Andrei Glyakin, was confident an appeal could succeed. "The judge completely ignored the Constitution when he made his verdict," he said. "We should certainly appeal, go to the Supreme Court, go to the president if need be."

Lohman said he would encourage Borodin to appeal. "He obviously tried to do everything in an honest way. He stated openly that he would do alternative service, and for that he is being punished. He should appeal," he said.

Borodin is now less sure. Looking haggard after the court hearing, he said he did not know whether he would take the case further. "I am tired of the whole thing," he said. "Frankly, I don't know whether I can face going through the whole procedure again."