Russia OKs alternative civil service for mobilized believer

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court in Russia has affirmed the right of a man mobilized to fight in Ukraine to instead do alternative civil service on grounds of his religious beliefs, setting a precedent that could empower more reluctant draftees to try and get out of military service.

Resistance against the mobilization in Russia last year has been quite common, even though the authorities said they were able to call up some 300,000 men, as was planned. Tens of thousands of men fled the country, and some of those who stayed avoided enlistment officials and ignored the summons. Others contested enlistment in courts, including by claiming their right for alternative civil service.

The Leningrad Regional Court upheld a ruling of a lower court on Thursday that deemed the drafting of Pavel Mushumansky unlawful and affirmed his right for alternative civil service, Mushumansky's lawyer Alexander Peredruk reported.

Peredruk told The Associated Press in a phone interview that it is the first such court ruling in Russia since the mobilization began last September, amid Moscow's increasingly bogged-down operation in Ukraine.

Publicly known previous attempts of draftees to opt for alternative civil service failed, even though the right to replace military service with civil labor, if the former is against a person's belief, is guaranteed by Russia's constitution. Enlistment officials and courts argued that only regular conscripts were eligible, and there are no laws outlying such an option during mobilization.

Mushumansky, a resident of the Gatchina city southwest of St. Petersburg, had contested the decision to call him up on the grounds of his religious beliefs, Peredruk said. According to media reports, in 2019 Mushumansky, an Evangelical Christian, was allowed to carry out alternative civil service instead of conscription and worked for almost two years in a psychiatric care home.

Last year, he received a call-up summons just days after President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization" and went to the enlistment office to apply for the alternative service, but was turned down and sent to a military unit. Mushumansky contested the decision in court and in the meantime refused to wear uniform and obey orders from his commanders.

In November, a court in Gatchina sided with Mushumansky, but enlistment officials appealed the ruling. On Thursday, the higher Leningrad Regional Court upheld it, and it took force right away, according to Peredruk.

In an interview with the AP, the lawyer hailed the ruling as not only an important one for his client, but also as an important example of Russian courts “making the right decisions from the point of the view of the Constitution” and being “guided correctly by the norms of the law.”

“The key question was, what to do if there is no law (outlinng alternative military service during mobilization)?” Peredruk said. “The courts (in Mushumansky's case) gave an absolutely correct response: in this case, you implement the Constitution.”

Dasha Litvinova, The Associated Press