Political party helps Georgians dodge the draft

Georgian troops during a NATO military exercise in 2016 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Conscription was reintroduced in Georgia at the end of 2016

A Georgian political party has created a religious organisation to help men avoid conscription into the armed forces.

According to a report in the Liberali magazine, the Girchi (Pine cone) party registered the religious order with the Justice ministry in March, giving them the state-recognised power to issue a document saying that a person is a priest. "Georgian law exempts a priest serving a religious organisation from compulsory military service," Girchi leader Iago Khvichia explained, "Therefore, if a person is still conscripted into the army, it is a clear and flagrant violation of their rights."

The Girchi leadership was at pains to point out that the new religious order - named the Christian Evangelical Protestant Biblical Freedom Church of Georgia after several failed attempts to earn government approval - would not take any old riff-raff into its ranks. "He cannot be a fascist nor homophobe or xenophobic. He is obliged to spread the idea of freedom in society," Mr Khvichia said. The Girchi party opposes military conscription, which was restored in the country last November.

However, the establishment of the Christian Evangelical Protestant Biblical Freedom Church of Georgia has not gone unnoticed in the Georgian military, which realises the can of worms which has just been opened. "If this law remains unchanged, it will not be possible to draft conscripts", a military spokesman told the Netgazeti news website.

Girchi member Nika Oboladze told Netgazeti that the party was simply taking advantage of a loophole in Georgia's human rights law. "We have seen this opportunity, and we're using it," he said.

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