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  1. The goal is 300,000 new soldiers, and thousands of War protestors have already been arrested, and are facing long prison sentences, or worse: forced conscription. Some of the conscripted men are disabled, unprepared, predominantly ethnic minorities, or unfit to bear arms. Almost none are receiving comprehensive training, and nearly all are being sent to their deaths. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63036985
  2. The Finnish government has ruled that the current law allowing Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid military service, in place for several decades, is discriminatory and contradicts the constitution. In the future, Finnish Jehovah's Witnesses* will be obliged to either serve in the nation's military or perform civil service on the same terms as everyone else, the government ruled, submitting a corresponding proposal to parliament, national broadcaster Yle reported. According to the 1987 law, Jehovah's Witnesses were not only freed from the military draft, they were freed of any obligation to perform community service as a pacifist alternative, a common option among other young people in Finland. The Finnish government has decided that this preferential treatment is discriminatory and contradicts the constitution. Repealing the law will allow all religious groups to get equal treatment in terms of conscription, the government's press release said. The government proposed a three-month transition period. Those applying for suspension within the three-month period before the new law enters into force shall be allowed to skip military service. After the transition period, exemptions will be no longer granted. Abolishing the Jehovah's Witnesses' draft exemption has been considered several times before, in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2013, but nothing came of the discussions. However, the debate was re-kindled this year, when the Helsinki Supreme Court overruled a prison sentence against a conscientious objector who refused to perform community service. The court found it discriminatory to sentence a conscientious objector, when Jehovah's Witnesses don't need to do any military or community service whatsoever. "Today we have a kind of two-storied definition of personal convictions. Jehovah's Witnesses enjoy statutory liberation from military service, while others with pacifist convictions don't," former Defense Minister Stefan Wallin, who has long pushed for the abolition of differential treatment, explained. Veikko Leinonen, a Jehovah's Witnesses information officer in Finland, said this isn't a "working solution." "It's problematic. The belief the Jehovah's Witnesses follow opposes all forms of war and killing," Leinonen stressed. "Ideally, we should keep the system that exists today. It has worked well and does not violate anyone's rights," he added. This move is expected to cover some 130 people annually. According to Teemu Penttilä, the leader of the task force behind the investigation, the number of "total objectors" refusing both military service and community service won't rise significantly. In 2017, 33 conscientious objectors were sentenced in Finland. The Finnish Defense Forces operate on the principle of universal male conscription, although women are allowed to volunteer and have been availing themselves of this opportunity increasingly. With a peacetime strength of about 16,000 troops, Finland is capable of mobilizing up to 230,000 troops and service personnel within four weeks, making it the largest force in Scandinavia. The total number of Jehovah's Witnesses is estimated at about 20,000 in Finland. * Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Russia https://sputniknews.com/europe/201809211068220658-finland-jehovah-witnesses-army/
  3. A working group from the Ministry of Defence said that Finland's laws exempting Jehovah's Witnesses from military conscription should be abolished. The working group presented their report - which proposes that Finland repeal the exemption law - to Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö on Monday. Every year in Finland some 20,000 young men take part in the country's mandatory military conscription programme. Instead of serving in the military, young men have the option of carrying out their national service in civilian settings. But young Jehovah's Witnesses have had the right to refuse to serve the country - militarily or even in a civilian capacity - since 1987. The topic of whether followers of the Christian denomination should be compelled to serve in Finland's military has been debated for years. Teemu Penttilä, leader of the defence ministry working group behind the report, said the time to change the law has arrived. "The civil service [system] has changed significantly in recent years. For example, religious communities now offer places of employment [in civil service]. There has been a clear societal change," Penttilä said. Long history Finland has been dealing with this issue for more than a decade. In 2006 a Defence Ministry working group examined the topic but did not reach any conclusions. A similar effort - this time consulting foreign experts - was carried out in 2009 but had similar results. Efforts by defence ministers in 2011 and 2013 also failed to reach a solution. The subject re-emerged this year. In a pivotal ruling, the Helsinki Court of Appeal found that permitting male Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription was discriminatory. The implementation of the law protecting Jehovah's Witnesses from conscription more than three decades ago came as a response to criticism Finland received from the UN Human Rights Committee. The committee said it viewed conscientious objectors as prisoners of conscience and accused Finland of not fulfilling its international obligations. Before the law changed in the late 1980s, every year dozens of Jehovah's Witnesses were jailed for not complying with conscription laws. Increase in total objectors possible Jehovah's Witness' spokesperson Veikko Leinonen has previously said Finland's laws on mandatory civil service violate the religious group's authority. Leinonen warned that abolishing the exemption would result in a return to the situation before the law was instated, and that members of the church would rather choose to serve jail sentences than serve. But the Defence Ministry's Penttilä disagreed, saying that the working group consulted several Jehovah's Witnesses representatives who vowed that no one would be excluded from the church for carrying out civil service duties. "We're aware there's a risk the number of total objectors may rise. But the working group found that it will not be a significant increase," Penttilä said. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finnish_jehovahs_witnesses_not_exempt_from_conscription_working_group_finds/10285341
  4. A Finnish court has ruled that the exemption from military service currently enjoyed by Jehovah's Witnesses is discriminatory. News 23.2.2018 14:34 | updated 24.2.2018 10:53 Jehovah's Witness exemption from conscription deemed prejudicial in "pivotal" ruling A Finnish court has ruled that the exemption from military service currently enjoyed by Jehovah's Witnesses is discriminatory. A new court ruled on Friday that the Finnish practice of allowing male Jehovah's Witnesses to avoid conscription is discriminatory. The Helsinki Court of Appeal on Friday voted 4-3 for naming the policy discriminatory against other conscientious objectors. The ruling came in a discrimination case brought by a man who was imprisoned in 2016 for refusing conscripted service the year before. The decision is the first court verdict that directly denounces the decades-old exception (instated in 1987), which says that men belonging to the Jehovah's Witness denomination will uniquely not be sent to prison if they refuse both military and civilian service. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Defense Ministry have long held that the law contradicts the constitution's principle of equality as well as its prohibition on discrimination. Basis in faith The majority of the court held that Finland has taken significant measures to improve equality since the exemption became law more than 30 years ago, such as signing the European Convention on Human Rights. Under current legislation Jehovah's Witnesses may postpone their entry into service for three years at a time (starting at age 18), until their obligation officially ceases at age 29. Proponents of the Christian faction cite their pacifist reading of the Bible as the basis of their objection, for which they receive no punishment. No other groups in Finland have the same right, except women, who have never been legally bound to enter conscripted service. "Pivotal" step follows international condemnation The Union of Conscientious Objectors (Finnish acronym AKL) tweeted about the news on Friday, calling the court's decision "pivotal" in the process towards banning conscription altogether. Robin Harms, a senior advisor to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, has acted as legal counsel to the imprisoned man who originally brought the case to the Eastern Uusimaa District Court in 2015. "Favouring Jehovah's Witnesses in this way is an embarrassment for Finland," Harms says. More than that, human rights organisations including Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Committee have long chastised the Finnish government for its ongoing practice of forced conscription. Only male (non-Witness) Finns are obliged to choose between military service, a longer civilian service term and a six-month prison (or remote monitoring) sentence. AKL reports that an average of some 40 objectors have annually refused both military and civilian service since the beginning of the 21st century. Some 100 Jehovah's Witnesses plead the law of exception to avoid conscription each year. While 72 percent of young men enter military service (minimum 6 months) when called, some 2,000 men opt for a civilian service period (minimum 347 days). All men who are jailed for objecting to conscription are considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience. Justice Minister: Consider exemption anew Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen said after the verdict that the current exemptions from military service should be evaluated in the light of the verdict. "If some group or other has exemptions based on their beliefs, then in this day and age they should always be evaluated to make sure different groups are treated equally," said Häkkänen. Häkkänen added that participation in national defence is mandated in the Finnish constitution, and that exceptions to that are based on religious convictions. "How are those interests weighed against each other in different situations, especially in a changing world, then that's a big constitutional law question as well," said Häkkänen. "This is an interesting issue that must now be resolved fairly." EDIT: This story was edited on 23 February to add comments from the Justice Minister. https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/jehovahs_witness_exemption_from_conscription_deemed_prejudicial_in_pivotal_ruling/10089261?origin=rss
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