Date: Fri, 3 Apr 98 13:12:52 CST
From: Ray Mitchell <>
Subject: AI: Russian Federation bulletin
Article: 31581
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

Prisoner of Conscience

Amnesty International, Urgent Action Bulletin, EUR 46/07/98, 2 April 1998

Vitaliy Vladimirovich Gushchin, a 22-year-old Jehovah's Witness from Kurchatovo, Kursk Region, is currently serving a one and a half year prison sentence for refusing to carry out military service, because of his religious beliefs. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience.

On 10 November 1997 Gushchin was sentenced by the Kurchatovo City Court to one and a half years' imprisonment. Following an appeal, his sentence was upheld by Kursk Regional Court on 25 December 1997.

Despite the fact that Gushchin repeatedly stated before the court that his refusal to do military service is based on his religious convictions, the court ruled that he does not have the right to do this. According to Russian legislation, “religious beliefs are not included in the list of grounds for exemption from military service”. The Kursk Regional Court also ruled that Vitaliy Gushchin is a member of a “sect” and that his claims to religious beliefs therefore are “groundless”.

Amnesty International is concerned that the court failed to respect Article 59 of the Russian Constitution, which gives all Russian citizens the right to serve a civilian alternative to military service if their beliefs, religious or otherwise, preclude them from joining the army.

The Russian authorities' refusal to recognize Gushchin's membership of Jehovah's Witnesses as legitimate is also in direct contravention of the Russian Constitution and international law, both of which uphold the principle of equality of religions before the law.


Military service is compulsory in Russia for men aged between 18 and 27. Although some Russian courts now uphold individuals' rights to serve an alternative to military service, most conscientious objectors continue to be imprisoned. Some have effectively been kidnapped by the military authorities and forcibly recruited into the army.

A number of reports received by Amnesty International suggest a pattern of persecution of members of various religious groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, which are considered non-legitimate by the Russian authorities. In September 1997, president Boris Yeltsin signed a law on freedom of conscience and religion. This law contains provisions which ban members of all religions which have not formally existed in the Russian Federation for 15 years from actively seeking converts. Amnesty International is concerned that these provisions are now being used by the authorities to legitimize acts of religious persecution and ill-treatment of members of various religious groups.

Conscientious objection to military service is recognized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, a right guaranteed under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Although this right was included in the Russian Constitution in April 1992, parliament has still not introduced the necessary enabling legislation, or amended the Criminal Code to reflect this constitutional provision. Young men therefore continue to risk imprisonment for refusing military service on conscientious grounds. The accession of the Russian Federation to the Council of Europe in February 1996 also requires Russia to work towards that body's Recommendation No. R (87)8, Regarding Conscientious Objection to Compulsory Military Service.