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MPs in Georgia have voted in favour of a draft law which could send young men to prison for avoiding military service. The law, which outlines what ‘avoiding conscription’ entails and prescribes punishments for it, was discussed during a joint session of the Defence and Security and Human Rights parliamentary committees on 23 May.
The bill would punish avoiding conscription by simulating illness, self-harm, fabricating a document, or other forms of deception, with fines or prison for up to three years.
An explanatory note to the draft bill, prepared by MP Irakli Sesiashvili, chair of the Defence and Security Committee, explains that it is common practice in Georgia for young men to attempt to invent reasons to avoid serving, which is their constitutional duty.
The draft makes no mention of the ‘religious organisation’ recently established by the opposition Girchi party to help young men avoid conscription by certifying them as priests. However, many observers believe that this is the reason that the draft law is being prepared.
On 11 May Sesiashvili claimed in parliament that Girchi’s religious organisation was created as a mechanism to help young men avoid their constitutional obligations by abusing Georgian law.
According to Georgian law, clergy and students at theological schools are exempted from compulsory service, and Girchi’s organisation, the Christian Evangelical Protestant Biblical Freedom Church, has the ability to certify people as priests.
Nika Oboladze, from the Biblical Freedom Church told Netgazeti that the organisation may appeal the new draft law in court, and if necessary they will take the lawsuit to the European Court of Human Rights.
All men aged 18–27 are subject to the compulsory draft. There are exceptions for men who are declared unfit due to health reasons, men convicted of serious crimes, as well as only sons in families where at least one relative died while ‘fighting for Georgia’s territorial integrity’. The prime minister also has the authority to release recruits from military service if they have ‘special talent’. Young men can delay their military service by paying a fee of ₾2,000 ($775) per year until they turn 27.