Russia: Arrests at anti-war protest / call for refusal during spring call-up for military service

Following a recent case of hazing within the military, several organisations openly called for a boycott of the spring 2006 round of call-ups to military service. The Russian paper Pravda reported in its English language online edition on 23 February: "Russian draft boards may face a large-scale boycott of conscription this spring. In the light of the recent tragedy of Private Andrei Sychev, a number of human rights activists have launched a propaganda campaign aimed at boycotting the conscription. Meanwhile, opinion polls indicate the majority of Russians believe the bullying in the Russian armed forces is a widespread phenomenon and nothing is being done to combat it. (...) A columnist at Moskowsky Komsomolets newspaper called on the young men to throw away the draft cards and evade the draft. In her column, Kalinina wrote that 'taking into account what the army did to the soldier Andrei Sychev, every male of 18 years of age in Russia has the full moral right to dodge the draft by using any legal means and methods. Saying 'no' to conscription in today's army is not an evasion of constitutional duty. On the contrary, is a display of civil maturity.'

Human rights activists also joined the campaign. The leader of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers Valentina Melnikova recommends that conscripts write the following letter to the Russian president, prosecutor general and governor:

"I (name) hereby refuse to take part in the spring conscription of 2006 because I know that I will be subject to beating, humiliation and extortion after arriving in a military unit. I request to regard my refusal to participate in conscription as an action taken in the state of extreme necessity (Article 39 of the Russian Criminal Code) and therefore should not to be regarded as a crime and subject to criminal prosecution. I am ready to be drafted to active military service after the state is able to ensure that my health is not at risk and my personality is respected."

According to Valentina Melnikova, the media reports on Andrei Sychev and the official statistics of the Russian Defense Ministry should be attached to the letter. The statistics show that 53 people died in the Russian armed forces in January 2006. The number includes 14 people who committed suicide. Valentina Melnikova maintains that a well-formulated letter should create good chances for a conscript to win his case in court and stay home, Newsru.com says.

Meanwhile, some Russian lawyers and the military are quite skeptical about prospects for conscripts to win their cases in court. They believe conscripts will lose and will be called up in any case. The lawyer Pavel Astakhov said that an extreme necessity can only occur in 'a concrete situation.' Melnikova's recommendations point to 'a fabricated extreme necessity.'

A chief of one of the Moscow draft boards who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity, said that a court of law would not register a lawsuit of a conscript who broke a deadline for filing an application for alternative civil service. He also said that he had seen the attempts to boycott the draft a few years ago, 'the dodgers ended up paying fines and getting suspended prison terms, so they paid their fines first and got drafted in the end.' "

According to reports by the Mothers' Rights Foundation, "three thousand soldiers on average die every year in the Russian army. During the last year 6083 families whose sons perished in the army during the compulsory military service applied for help to the Foundation. The Chairwoman of the Foundation Board, Veronica Marchenko, said that in 25% of cases the matter concerns suicide, but often such wording is used in the official certificate in order not to pay compensation to a deceased's family. Moreover, 23% of deaths in the army are attributed to accidents, 16% to military operations, 15% to other soldiers' aggressive acts and 11% to illness. Besides, in 17% cases the perished soldier was the only child in the family and 14% of parents, who lost their son in military service, are disabled persons. Parents of a perished soldier can get a pension, which amounts 70 dollars a month, but they receive it only if it was proved that the cause of death wasn't a suicide or an illness. In addition, investigation often doesn't take into consideration that in most cases a soldier was driven to suicide after everyday humiliation, brutal tortures and harassment. According to Veronica Marchenko, the last year is characterized by unusually cruel murders and numerous criminal cases."

Arrests at anti-war demonstration

Representatives of the movement “Autonomous Action”, who introduce themselves as incorrigible deserters of principle, held their protest action. Olga Miryasova, activist of Autonomous Action Moscow, is totally confident that the State does not need an army. In her opinion, creation of a professional army isn't a way out of the current situation, because a soldier undergoes there long and thoroughly training and as a result he becomes a professional killer.  So far the movement unites only 150 persons, but actually in Russia there are many people who don't want to serve in the army.

The protest ended when the group was blocked when it tried to approach the Kremlin. About 15 protesters were detained.

Sources: Pravda.ru, 23 February 2006, Human Rights House Network, 23 February 2006