Georgia’s government is seeking to introduce legislative amendment to prevent young men from avoiding mandatory military service in the country. The move aims to counter opposition party Girchi’s recent move to establish their own ‘religion’ to help young men avoid conscription.
Irakli Sesiashvili, who chairs parliament’s Military and Security Committee, told journalists on 11 May that they are working on a draft bill.
‘We know an organisation was set up to avoid conscription and there is uproar about it’, Levan Gogichaishvili, an MP from the ruling Georgian Dream party said to Sesiashvili during a committee meeting, asking if they planned to do anything about it.
‘It is an attempt to use a certain article in Georgian law against a constitutional obligation’, Sesiashvili replied, adding that he has set up a small group of MPs who will work on the draft law. He welcomed other MPs to join the group. Sesiashvili didn’t specify which laws they plan to amend.
Attempts by Girchi to abolish compulsory service have failed several times. Previous to this, in June 2016, then Minister of Defence Tina Khidasheli ended mandatory recruitment of young men at the ministry — which accounted for 25% of draftees. However, It was reinstated on 14 February by new Defence Minister Levan Isoria, reversing his predecessor’s decision.
The Christian Evangelical Protestant Biblical Freedom Church has been officially registered with the Ministry of Justice, and now issues documents to young men who do not wish to join the army, certifying that they are ‘priests’.
According to Georgian law, clergy and students at theological schools are exempted from compulsory service.
Iago Khvichia from Girch told journalists that a law cannot be written or amended to single out a single organisation. He believes that the government is using political leverage against Girchi.
‘They cannot make the Biblical Freedom organisation an exception in the law, so they will have to touch on religious feelings, meaning that this draft will affect other religious organisations as well. So this is a very dangerous road’, he said, adding that it would be dangerous for the state to decide which religions are real and which are not.
On 12 May, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a Washington based pro-democracy group, published a poll conducted in April of this year about conscription in Georgia. NDI asked respondents from Georgia if they think that military service should be mandatory for young men, with 64% agreeing that they should; 18% stating that it should be mandatory for both men and women; and 16% stating that it should be abolished.