The House of Representatives of the Belarusian National Assembly on October 8 adopted the first reading of a new version of the Military Servicemen Status Law, which would penalize conscript soldiers for participating in political activities.
People called up for military service will have to suspend their membership in political parties or other organizations pursuing political goals for the period of their service, Defense Minister Leanid Maltsaw told reporters in the parliament lobby.
The soldiers who refuse to do this will be subject to penalties under law, General Maltsaw said. He noted that the Military Servicemen Status Law currently in force also prohibits conscript soldiers from political activities.
According to Mr. Maltsaw, the bill also retains the provision in the existing law banning military servicemen from participating in strikes during their service. "But this may be done during off-duty time," he noted.
When asked about the reason for having called up young opposition activists, whose recruitment into the army is widely believed to be politically motivated and a sort of punishment, Mr. Maltsaw said, "Speculation about a politically motivated call-up has nothing to do with reality. We act in strict accordance with regulations. We view a person as a citizen of Belarus, not a member of a political party, and we call him up under law."
Many prominent young opposition activists have been called up for military service in the last two years, including Franak Vyachorka, leader of the youth wing of the Belarusian Popular Front, as well as Dzmitry Zhaleznichеnka, Ales Kalita, Vital Karatysh, Zmitser Fedaruk, Ivan Shyla, Ales Krawchenya, Yawhen Skrabets, and Andrey Tsyanuta. Formerly, the military preferred not to draft oppositionists, believing that they would do more harm than good to the army.
Human rights defenders insist that opposition activists were called up for political reasons and often despite the findings of health examinations.