On February 24, 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine, including from the territory of Belarus. Belarus did not formally enter the war against Ukraine, but Alexander Lukashenko publicly supported Russia’s aggressive actions. So far Belarusian troops have not crossed the border with Ukraine, but there is a clear understanding in Belarusian society that sooner or later Moscow will still force Lukashenka to send an army to Ukraine to fight on Putin’s side.
Due to all the events related to the war, from the beginning of 2022 until today, on the one hand, the Belarusian authorities have been paying increased attention to conscription as well as increasing the number of conscripts (for example, through bating the medical requirements to military service). On the other hand, more and more Belarusians themselves are actively avoiding conscription and military service.
It should be recalled that according to the law «On military duty and military service» in the Republic of Belarus, an appeal on fixed-term military service are subject to men aged between 18 and 27 years, who are registered or obliged to register in military records and not serving in the reserves.
Article 435 of the Criminal Code of Belarus criminalizes evading military service. Part 1 of this article stipulates a fine, arrest, restriction of liberty for up to two years or imprisonment for the same term. In the case of evading conscription by willfully inflicting oneself an injury, simulation of sickness, forgery of documents, or other deceit, Part 2 of the above-mentioned article applies. It carries a penalty of restriction of liberty for up to five years or imprisonment for the same period.
On the whole, the Criminal Code has several articles that stipulate criminal liability for evading military conscription: evasion from call-up to military service on the mobilization (Art. 434), evasion of regular call-up to active military service (Art. 435), failure of a reservist or person liable for military service to appear for military training or special classes (Art. 436), avoidance of military registration by a conscript or person liable for military duty (Art. 437).
Overall, in Belarus the number of criminal cases related to evasion of both conscription and military service is not publicized, this is classified information. However, it is known, for example, that in 2022 in Minsk 79 persons were prosecuted for these offences, most of them (96.2%) for evading regular call-up to active military service. Convicted persons received various penalties: the most common used punishments were community service and fines, but nine of those convicts were given the deprivation of liberty with suspended sentences.
The head of the conscription department of the military commissariat of Grodno and the Grodno district Mikhail Pozdnyakov also spoke about the fact that not all evaders’ cases became public. In particular, he told the Grodnenskaya Pravda regional newspaper that, on average, 20-25 residents of Grodno and Grodno region became evaders of military service during each conscription campaign. According to him, the main reason for non-appearance of those liable for military service to the military registration and enlistment office is “fear of serving in the army”. Mikhail Pozdnyakov emphasized that after receiving the summons, some of the evaders left for the EU countries, which, in their turn, refused to extradite the evaders to Belarussian side referring to their lack of any criminal liability for avoidance of service in the Belarusian army.
25 July 2022
The prosecutor’s office of Kobryn district transferred to court the criminal case against a 23-year-old resident of Volkovysk who violated the rules of alternative service. The young man’s military service was changed to alternative service by the decision of the military enlistment office, and from May 2020 he served in Kobryn psychoneurological boarding house for the elderly and disabled.
According to the materials of the case, the guy did not comply with service restrictions, in particular, he as a military servant was repeatedly absent at service without reasonable excuse in July and December. He was issued three reprimands. For this, the resident of Volkovysk was charged under part 1 of Art. 465-2 of the Criminal Code for evading alternative service. This part of the article implies punishment in the form of arrest (the criminal law of Belarus interprets this as incommunicado detention for a period of 1 to 3 months).
12 August 2022
In Kobryn the verdict was announced to a local resident, who was accused of evading military conscription. According to investigators, in May 2022 the man failed to appear for military training without a valid reason. The court found the resident of Kobryn guilty and sentenced him to a fine of 80 basic units (2,560 rubles).
18 August 2022
A criminal case was opened in Vitebsk against two women who tried to protect a draft dodger (their relative) from the police. Reportedly, the 21-year-old did not respond to the summons from the military enlistment office, so the police officers came for him. At first, the suspect’s mother and aunt tried to persuade the law enforcers to leave their relative alone. The policemen did not respond to this suggestion and tried to enter the house. Then the women began to push them away.
Telegram channels published a video of the incident, which was allegedly captured by a body-worn camera. The evader from military service was eventually detained, along with his mother and aunt. The women could face up to six years in prison.
30 August 2022
The Hrodna military registration and enlistment office held a show trial of a draft dodger. A young man had previously had a military service postponement in relation to education. When the grounds for the deferment expired, the young man received a summons. However, he did not show up for a medical examination at the military enlistment office on the appointed date. As a result, the commission was unable to make a decision, and a criminal case was initiated against the conscript.
The young man was tried at a mobile court session. The process took place in the auditorium of the military registration and enlistment office. Future conscripts were invited to it. The judge considered the criminal case and found the boy guilty of evading conscription. The defendant was sentenced to one year’s restriction of liberty and sent to an open-type correctional facility.
29 September 2022
A 24-year-old Minsk resident who tried to avoid military service and went to Poland was sentenced to a two-month arrest. He was detained at the Belarusian border on his way back to home.
As journalists were told in the Pershamaiski District Prosecutor’s Office of Minsk, the young man was supposed to go to military service in 2020. He was served with a summons under his signature, but, however, he did not show up at the appointed time in the military enlistment office. In February 2021, a criminal case was opened against a citizen of Minsk for evading military service and he was put on the wanted list.
In August 2022 the guy was detained while crossing the Polish-Belarusian border. He explained that he had worked as a taxi driver in 2020 and shortly before the draft started, he had been involved in a traffic accident and received a heavy fine. According to him, because he was fired from his job, he went to earn a living to Poland. The court found the citizen of Minsk guilty under part 1 of Art. 435 of the Criminal Code (evasion of military conscription) and sentenced him to two months of arrest.
4 October 2022
It became known that that an 18-year-old boy, accused of evading conscription, will be tried in Minsk. The guy was sent a summons and the military registration and enlistment office took his signature about criminal responsibility for evasion. However, he didn’t come to the medical commission or for additional examinations without any valid reasons.
According to the prosecutor’s office, employees of the military registration and enlistment office repeatedly called the citizen of Minsk, but he did not answer them. He lied to his mother that he had undergone the necessary examination. “The defendant has no previous convictions. He works as a tiler in a state-run organization,” Deputy Prosecutor of Partyzanski district of Minsk Timur Stuzhuk told state media. The citizen of Minsk was charged under Part 1 of Art. 435 of the Criminal Code (evasion of military service). He faces up to two years of imprisonment.
10 October 2022
Partyzanski District Court of Minsk considered a criminal case against a 19-year-old boy accused of evading conscription. According to the court materials, the accused man, being a conscript and having been warned of criminal responsibility for evading military service, from February 1, 2022 to May 31, 2022 “maliciously evaded military service until the end of the enlistment term, in particular, he did not appear three times without a valid reason to the place of conscription for military service”.
The young man admitted the guilt in full. During the trial, he explained that he had failed to attend the medical examination without a valid reason, as he had undertaken it lightly. The court considered that his sincere repentance was a mitigating circumstance. As a result, he was found guilty of evading conscription and sentenced to 240 hours of public works.
22 November 2022
A criminal case against a 24-year-old resident of Luninets district for evading conscription was sent to court. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the accused man has been on the wanted list as a person not fulfilling military registration duties since the fall of 2015. In May 2020, police officers found him and brought him to the military registration and enlistment office, where the guy was handed a summons under his signature and notified that he had to undergo an obligatory medical examination before conscription procedure for the military service. However, the defendant did not appear either for medical examination or at the military commissariat.
“The young man changed his name during the conscription campaign in 2020 and went to work in the Russian Federation. Upon returning home in 2022, he was detained by law enforcement,” the prosecutor’s office said. Criminal proceedings were instituted against the guy under Article 435, Part 1 of the Criminal Code (‘Evasion from activities on draft to the military service’). The article provides for punishment in the form of community service, a fine, arrest, restriction of liberty or up to two years in a penal colony.
2 December 2022
In Stolin, a court verdict was announced against a 27-year-old resident of town Stolin. He was accused of evading conscription for military service. In May 2020, the defendant received a subpoena under personal signature at his place of residency in which he was ordered to appear at the military registration and enlistment office for the passage of events for conscription to urgent military service, service in the reserve.
However, the young man did not appear at the address indicated in the summons. In December 2020, he was put on the wanted list. The man was found in June 2022 in Russia. There he was detained by the police and handed over to the Belarusian side. The court found the young man guilty and sentenced him to three months of arrest.
10 March 2023
Military Commissariat of Brest and the Brest region organized a mobile court session for trying an 18-year-old boy who refused to serve in the Belarusian army. The defendant failed a medical examination without a valid reason and did not appear at the military registration and enlistment office on the date specified in the summons.
During the trial he admitted his guilt in full, explaining that he “did not want to go to the army because he was afraid of being sent to the war”. The court found the defendant’s fear unconvincing and sentenced the young man to a fine of 60 basic units (2,220 rubles). This court session was also used by the authorities both for propaganda purposes and to intimidate young people: high schoolers and draft-age youths from local schools were gathered for it.
13 March 2023
Hrodna Regional Court started hearing the case against 19-year-old Anita Bakunovich, former customs officer Mikalai Kuleshou and army evader Yehor Kurzin. All of them were detained near the Lithuanian fence while trying to cross the border illegally. Yehor Kurzin was accused of illegal border crossing as well as draft evasion.
21-year-old Yehor Kurzin in the propaganda film of Belarusian television (BT) said that he had studied for a year at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radio Electronics (BSUIR) and had been expelled for academic failure. According to the propaganda story, the guy allegedly made up a story about political persecution, because he did not want to join the army, and “was not listed in the political prisoners ” (namely BT used such wording).
All of the above examples illustrate the following things:
- There is no system for more detailed and in-depth monitoring on rights violations of Belarussian conscientious objectors and deserters. Our House is the only human rights organization that tries in one way or another to organize monitoring of criminal cases against those who evade military service.
- More international attention and support is needed for those Belarusian men who do not want to join the army, because today their evasion is the only serious deterrent for Lukashenko. The large number of evaders significantly reduces the Lukashenko’ possibility to send Belarusian soldiers to Ukraine to fight on Putin’s side, as the dictator simply does not have enough human resources for such an action.