A Christian NGO has added its voice to the growing support for Michael Lyons, a member of the Royal Navy who is facing imprisonment for 'wilful disobedience'.
Lyons, who will be court-martialled tomorrow (20 May), failed to register for a rifle course in September while his application for discharge due to conscientious objection was being considered. His application was later turned down.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), the UK's oldest Christian peace charity, resolved at its Annual Council meeting to give its backing to Lyons.
The charges against Lyons have already been criticised by Forces Watch, a network working on ethical issues around the armed forces. He has also been backed by peace groups including the Peace Pledge Union, a pacifist group which has long supported COs.
Lyons, a navy medic, requested that his attendance on the rifle course be delayed while his application for discharge was underway, but the request was turned down. Members of the forces applying for conscientious objector (CO) status remain subject to armed forces discipline while their applications are considered.
Lyons' commitment to medical ethics meant that he objected to the idea that non-British casualties should be a given a lower priority than British casualties. He also developed an objection to the war in Afghanistan because of the large number of civilians wounded and killed.
But the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO), meeting in December, declared that Lyons' objection was "political" rather than "moral". Critics point out that the law on conscientious objection makes no such distinction
FoR expressed their "dismay" that Lyons is "being refused the right to conscientious objection".
UK law theoretically grants serving personnel a right to discharge if they develop a conscientious objection. However, it is widely believed that most personnel are unaware of this right, which is not mentioned in the Enlistment Paper which new recruits sign on joining up.
Critics also argue that the procedure for applying for discharge is opaque and unnecessarily complex.
"Ninety-five years ago, the UK became the first country in the world to formally recognise the right to conscientious objection in law," said Emma Sangster of Forces Watch, "This is something we can be proud of. Yet this right still exists more in theory than in practice."
Forces Watch pointed out the irony of Lyons' court-martial falling only five days after International Conscientious Objectors' Day, which was marked around the world on Sunday (15 May).
Sangster added, “Recent weeks have seen conscientious objectors imprisoned in Egypt and South Korea, but many people will be surprised to hear that the same thing may be about to happen in Britain.”
She called on MPs to amend the Armed Forces Bill currently going through Parliament to strengthen the right to conscientious objection for serving personnel. Forces Watch want to see straightforward procedures written in law and made known to personnel when they sign up.