Manneken Pis dressed as "Prisoner for Peace": demands release of prisoners
9 January 2006

Around the world many men and women are in prison for various anti-militarist actions, including conscientious objection, disarmament actions, and nuclear whistle-blowing.

For Mother Earth, member of Friends of the Earth international, has dress the famous Belgian landmark "Manneken Pis" in a traditional prisoner costume, to draw attention to the "Prisoners for Peace", and to demand their release.

The right to anti-militarist conscience, including a refusal to carry weapons or train to kill, is widely recognised as a fundamental human right, protected by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For Mother Earth calls for the immediate release of all imprisoned conscientious objectors and other "prisoner for peace".

Countries that are currently imprisoning conscientious objectors or other "Prisoners for Peace" include: Armenia, Eritrea, Finland, Greece, Israel, the Netherlands, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and the United States.

A few cases worthy of particular attention:

Finland still has a very extensive compulsory military service system. The alternative civilian service is up to twice as long as the most common length of military service, and the rights of civilian servants are not respected. For this reason, Amnesty International considers the alternative service to be a punishment, and has adopted many imprisoned Finnish conscientious objectors as "prisoners of conscience". Their only "crime" is refusing to carry a gun, and refusing to train to kill and be killed.
The fact that a country such as Finland - which prides itself on having a good human rights record - is criticised in this way should become a major issue in the forthcoming Finnish presidential election.
Questionnaire for Finnish presidential candidates on the issue of conscientious objection

Eritrea also has compulsory military service for all young people in the country. There are reports of widespread forced conscription into the army. An increasing number of people are refusing to take part in military training, for reasons of conscience. Altogether nine Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned for conscientious objection to military service. Three Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned since 24 September 1994, for refusing to perform military service.
All three have never been charged for their "crime". The maximum penalty for conscientious objection is three years.

United States soldier, Sgt Kevin Benderman, was deployed to Iraq from March to September 2003. When his unit deployed to Iraq on 8 January 2005, Kevin Benderman refused to deploy with his unit. The Army charged him with desertion and a lesser charge of "intentionally missing movement" for not being on the plane when the 3rd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq. Benderman was acquitted of desertion, but found guilty of "missing movement". For this charge, he received an unexpectedly high sentence of 15 month in prison, was reduced in rank to private, and will receive a dishonorable discharge. Military police immediately took Kevin Benderman into custody.

Conscientious objection is the check and balance against war and militarism.

Antimilitarist conscience is not a crime: it is an ethical and political choice. The only "crime" of conscientious objectors is refusing to carry a weapon, and refusing to be trained to kill other human beings.

For Mother Earth, Maria Hendrikaplein 5, 9000 Gent, Belgium
Tel: +32 9 242 87 52     Fax: +32 9 242 87 51