THE PRIME MINISTER IS FACING CALLS TO ENSURE that the new Armed Forces Bill gives military personnel the right to leave the forces, especially if they develop a conscientious objection to war.

The call has been backed by Michael Lyons, a former sailor who was sentenced to seven months’ imprisonment in 2011 after he developed a conscientious objection to the war in Afghanistan, but was refused the right to leave the Royal Navy. He was speaking ahead of International Conscientious Objectors’ Day today.

In theory, members of the UK’s armed forces currently have the right to apply for discharge if they develop a conscientious objection, but this is very rarely granted and many forces personnel are unaware that this right exists in law.

Michael Lyons was a medic in the Royal Navy in 2010 when his application for discharge on grounds of conscientious objection was rejected. After politely refusing to take part in rifle training he was convicted at a court-martial and sentenced to seven months in the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester. Lyons said: “Conscientious Objection is an imperative right of every serving member of the armed forces. Theoretically, it provides a route for the orders, practises and hypocrisies within the hierarchy to be critiqued and challenged. But in practice it can lead to harassment, death threats and incarceration.

“We must listen to the unique views and experiences of those military personnel who choose to stand up and speak out if we are ever to find a way out of perpetual war.”

Geoff Tibbs of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said: “We are told that the armed forces fight for democracy and human rights, but in practice they even restrict the human rights of their own members. Armed forces leaders have the power to lock someone up for their beliefs. Let’s not forget that Michael Lyons was imprisoned in Britain only ten years ago because his views on war had changed and his right to discharge turned out to exist only on paper. If Boris Johnson really respects forces personnel as he claims, he will legislate to give them the right to leave when they choose.”

A ceremony to mark International Conscientious Objectors’ Day in Britain will be held from 4.30 to 5.30pm today (Saturday 15 May 2021). Hundreds of people are expected to join online, while six people will gather, in accordance with Covid safety rules, at the Conscientious Objectors’ Memorial stone in Tavistock Square, London. Actor Michael Mears will perform live from Tavistock Square, while other speakers will include Israeli conscientious objector Atalya Ben-Abba.

* The online ceremony for Conscientious Objectors’ Day will be live streamed here at 4.30pm.

* Source: Peace Pledge Union