23:49 GMT25 January 2020
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    Finland’s Jehovah’s Witnesses may find themselves joining the military for the first time in decades, as the Ministry of Defense now contemplates a more “equal” draft system disallowing their exemption as discriminatory.

    Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö of the Blue Reform party has received a proposal to repeal a long-standing draft exemption for Jehovah's Witnesses*, the daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet argued.

    According to working group chairman Teemu Penttilä, there are five reasons behind the proposal.

    "The main reason is that the exemption violates the constitution and, according to which everyone must be treated equally. The circumstances have also changed since 1985 when the exemption came into force and the constitution is interpreted much more strictly today," Penttilä explained.

    Second, Finland's security situation has changed, as have the responsibilities of the Finnish Defense Forces, which offers broader opportunities for Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse to bear arms.

    "Previously, the military duty was primarily about armed defense, but today there are many tasks in the defense that do not involve weapons," Penttilä argued, citing cyber defense and firefighting as some of the defense-graded tasks that do not involve weapons.

    READ MORE: Proposal for Temporary Stop for Women in Army Sets Finland Afire

    Third, the civil service has been developed markedly since 1985, the working group found.

    "The civil service has developed a lot and today has virtually nothing to do with defense duties. So if one's convictions forbid one to take arms, one can still do civilian service," Penttilä argued.

    Fourth, Jehovah's Witnesses interviewed by the working group signaled that their attitude toward conscription has largely changed, with many reportedly being "neutral" about military service.

    Finally, recent court rulings undermined the established order. Last year, the Helsinki Court of Appeal decided that a conscientious objector could not be punished because Jehovah's Witnesses receive no penalty for doing the same, which would imply that all of Finland's citizens aren't being treated equally by the law.

    "There is a clear risk to the entire system if conscientious objectors become more common," Penttilä pointed out.

    The Finnish Union of Conscientious Objectors (AKL) concurred that a change in legislation is needed, but in the opposite direction to the working group's proposal, which, the AKL argued, would only increase the number of objectors. The AKL also stressed that the proposal would weaken human rights in Finland and emphasized that the UN previously called on Finland to completely abolish the penalty for conscientious objectors.

    According to the AKL, there is an annual average of 40 objectors in Finland. By contrast, about 100 Jehovah's Witnesses avoid conscription each year in the Nordic country.

    READ MORE: Finns Mull Co-Housing Male, Female Conscripts to Boost Equality, Morale

    The Finnish Defense Forces are based on universal male conscription, with the percentage of female volunteers steadily rising in recent years. Each year, some 27,000 conscripts are trained. While it has a standing strength of about 16,000 troops in peacetime, Finland is capable of mobilizing up to 230,000 troops and service personnel within four weeks, the largest force in Scandinavia.

    The total number of Jehovah's Witnesses is estimated at about 20,000 in Finland.

    * The Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Russia

    Related:

    Proposal for Temporary Stop for Women in Army Sets Finland Afire
    Finns Mull Co-Housing Male, Female Conscripts to Boost Equality, Morale
    Finland Rules Jehovah's Witnesses Draft Exemption 'Discriminatory'
    Tags:
    army, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scandinavia, Finland
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