Uzbekistan: Alternative Service for JWs and SDAs and Evangelical Baptists

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    Members of religious organisations to undergo alternative service

    Posted 31.05.2003 02:09, BBC Monitoring In accordance with the new Uzbek law on universal military service, members of officially registered religious organisations which forbid service in the armed forces will now serve an alternative service lasting 24 months, the chairman of the government committee for religious affairs, Shoazim Munavvarov, has said.

    Munavvarov said that alternative service extends to three Christian organisations: Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelical Christians-Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. The following is the text of the article entitled "They will not touch weapons" and published by the Uzbek newspaper Pravda Vostoka on 29 May.

    People say that in accordance with the new Uzbek law on military service, members of religious affiliations which forbid the use of weapons are not called up to the armed forces. Is it true?
    Lora Kim, a member of the Seventh Day Adventists church in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
    We have asked Shoazim Munavvarov, the chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers' committee for religious affairs, to answer our reader's question.

    Correspondent: Shoazim Shoislomovich [Munavvarov], our reader refers to the law on universal military service which was passed by the Uzbek parliament in December 2002. The law, indeed, provides for exemptions for young men who are members of religious groups.

    Munavvarov: It is true that young men from some religious affiliations are not called up to the armed forces. They undergo alternative service, in keeping with Article 37 of the new law. During the alternative service, they do unskilled labour in various sectors of the economy and in the social sphere, and are involved in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergency situations.

    This kind of service has been introduced especially for boys who are members of officially registered religious organisations, which forbid the use of weapons and service in the armed forces. The right to alternative service is extended to citizens members of the religious affiliations aged between 18 and 27 who have been registered at call-up centres as fit for military service. However, they are involved in military training courses to master a military speciality, which does not require the use of weapons and taking the oath.

    Correspondent: Are there many religious organisations in Uzbekistan which forbid the use of weapons and service in the armed forces?

    Munavvarov: No, there aren't. Of 16 registered religions, the charters of only three forbid service in the armed forces and the use of weapons. They are: Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Seventh Day Adventists.

    Correspondent: What are their relative proportions in terms of the total number of congregations?

    Munavvarov: Their number is not big. Of 2,118 religious organisations, people following the three religious teachings are united into 36 congregations. Jehovah's Witnesses have only two congregations: the one in Tashkent Region and the other one in eastern Ferghana Region.

    Evangelical Christians-Baptists have 23 congregations and the Seventh Day Adventists, of which the author of the letter to Pravda Vostoka is a member, have 11 congregations. If there are boys of call-up age among her religious brothers, then their ties with the congregation will not be cut off.

    Correspondent: Another of my questions is of delicate nature. Won't young men start joining the ranks of the "privileged" religious confessions in order to avoid serving in the army?

    Munavvarov: I don't think this will happen. First, the alternative service is inferior service. Unlike real military service, the alternative service will not be an advantage in the future. Second, the alternative service does not last one year as the fixed term military service does; it lasts 24 months.

    Graduates from the higher education establishments serve 18 months. Fixed term servicemen are dressed, shod and fed by the state, and even receive salaries. Boys in the alternative service only get 80% of what they earn. And finally, there is a more attractive kind of service, the mobilized call-up reserve.

    However, if a boy has joined a religion by conviction, then the law on freedom of worship and religious organisations will protect him, likewise the new law on universal military service.

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