Georgian civil society organizations have expressed strong criticism against a legislative proposal submitted by MP Irakli Sesiashvili, chair of the Parliament’s Defense and Security Committee, according to which only Orthodox clerics will maintain the right to be exempt from compulsory military service.
The groups claim that “it will restrict the freedom of religion,” is discriminatory and contradicts the principle of equality before the law.
The lawmaker cited the need to close the legal loophole, which, in his words has been abused by “some organizations” to help youths evade compulsory service. MP apparently referred to a religious organization Biblical Freedom created in 2017 by Girchi, a liberal political outlet that opposes compulsory military service. According to Girchi, Religious Freedom has already allowed over 15 000 young people to postpone their compulsory service, by “ordaining” them as religious officials.
MP Sesiashvili explained, however, that the clerics of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) would continue to benefit from the exemption, since this right is protected by the Constitutional Agreement between the GOC and the Georgian state, signed in 2002.
In a statement released on March 14, “No to Phobia!” – a platform, uniting seven civil society organizations – criticized MP Sesiashvili’s argument that the right of Orthodox clerics to be exempt from the compulsory military service is protected by the Constitutional Agreement between the State and the Orthodox Church, pointing out that no specific agreement can justify discriminatory approaches.
“Such initiatives deserve special criticism as cases of restriction of religious freedom and discrimination on religious grounds (both in legislation and practice) represent one of the most important challenges facing our country,” the statement reads.
The Coalition for Equality, a group of nine civil society organizations, including the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, the Human Rights Monitoring Center and the Open Society Georgia Foundation, released a statement as well, saying the draft bill will “clearly worsen” the state of religious freedom in the country.
“The initiative on stripping rights from certain religious groups, particularly when such rights are preserved for representatives of dominant religious organization, cannot have a legitimate justification and is a clear discrimination on religious grounds,” reads their statement.
“Unfortunately, instead of addressing the wide societal discontent on compulsory military service and transforming the system [entirely], the authorities are trying to eliminate possibilities of avoiding the service through gross violations of rights of other social groups,” the organizations also said.
Both groups called on the Parliament to drop MP Sesiashvili’s initiative.