DECEMBER 30, 2013
BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan—The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan unanimously declared on November 19, 2013, that the country’s current law on alternative service is unconstitutional and violates the right of freedom of religion. The Court directed the government to amend the law to allow for genuine alternative civilian service for those who, for reasons of conscience, object to military service.
In 2009, Kyrgyzstan adopted a law that recognized the right to alternative service. However, it became evident that this service actually fell under military control. Those serving were placed under the supervision of military personnel, and some were ordered to make payments in support of military activities. After completion, those who were in alternative service were automatically enrolled in the reserves of the armed forces. As a result, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to accept the alternative service offered, a stand that prompted several criminal cases against the Witnesses.
The November ruling recognized that the Witnesses had valid reasons for rejecting the alternative service offered to them and were not attempting to evade their civic duty. On the contrary, the Court found that the Witnesses were willing to perform alternative service that is civilian in nature. It is expected that all criminal cases imposed on the Witnesses will be reopened and decided in harmony with the amended law.
Khamit Iskakov, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan, states: “In addition to resolving the issue of conscientious objection to military service, this ruling will be helpful in further demonstrating to Kyrgyz officials that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a respected, international religion.”
International: J. R. Brown, Office of Public Information, tel. +1 718 560 5000
Kyrgyzstan: Khamit Iskakov, tel. +996 770 778 885