GEORGIA: Religious discrimination with regard to military service

Press release of the Tolerance and Diversity Institute: “The government adopted discriminatory and unconstitutional defense legislation”

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (23.09.2023) – On 21 September 2023, the Parliament of Georgia adopted the new Defense Code and related amendments to various laws in its third reading. The new legislation is unconstitutional, creates discrimination on the grounds of religion, and violates the constitutional principles of freedom of religion and belief, equality, the right to privacy and a fair trial.

  1. The new Defense Code and the Law on Non-Military, Alternative Labor Service provide that all clerics between the ages of 18 and 27 will be allowed to perform alternative, non-military labor service as an alternative to mandatory military service. However, this obligation does not apply to the clergy of the Georgian Orthodox Church, who, based on the Constitutional Agreement, are exempt from all military obligations, including alternative service.
  2. According to the changes, all men between 18 and 60 will be automatically enrolled in the army reserve of the defense forces. An exclusive exception will apply to the clergy of the Orthodox Church because, according to the Constitutional Agreement, they are exempt from all military obligations.
  3. According to Article 97 of the new Defense Code, to record the Mobilization Reserve composition, information about a person’s religious affiliation will be entered into the electronic data system of the mobilization reserve. This will necessitate the collection of personal data about the religious affiliation of all men aged between 18 and 60. This information is, however, a sensitive special category of personal data.
  4. Therefore, the government made changes to the Georgian Law on Personal Data Protection (Article 6), which made the processing of special categories of personal data (including information about religious affiliation) permissible for the purposes of military or reserve services, as provided for by the new Defense Code.
  5. Amendments are also initiated to the Administrative Procedure Code. According to the planned changes, in cases in which court appeals are made against the decisions on the recruitment of conscripts to both national military service and to non-military, alternative labor service, the conscription will be suspended only until the decision of the district (city) court, i.e., for about a month. If the court of first instance considers that a person should undergo military service, this decision is subject to immediate execution.
  6. Along with these legislative changes, the authorities introduced new, rather alarming terminology, such as “dishonest” and “fictitious” religious organizations, which are used as the main argument to support these changes to the new defense code. It is true that this terminology is not written directly in the texts of the laws but is found in the Defense Code definition card and in public statements by the government. Nevertheless, the fact of using this kind of terminology in the legal and legislative field is alarming. This line of argument indicates that the state is instrumental in deciding which religious organizations are “fictitious” and which are “real.”

Due to the government’s discriminatory policy, freedom of religion and belief in Georgia has been grossly violated for years, and the situation is growing gradually worse:

  • The government interferes with the autonomy of religious communities and violates the constitutional principle of secularism;
  • The government examines the sphere of religion through the prism of assumed “security” rather than in the light of human rights. This is confirmed by the activities of the State Agency for Religious Issues, created in 2014 under the auspices of the Prime Minister, and by tens of thousands of leaked files of illegal monitoring-surveillance carried out by the State Security Service;
  • The Georgian Dream government has not taken any steps to eliminate from the legislation the existing discrimination based on religion;
  • On the contrary, it has adopted a number of legislative changes that further deepen the inequality between the Georgian Orthodox Church and all other religious organizations;
  • The authorities have done nothing for the restitution of historical property by the minority religious communities. On the contrary, the historical properties of these other religious denominations were transferred to the Georgian Orthodox Church;
  • The government illegally prevents minority religious communities from building new religious buildings.


Meanwhile, although the government’s policy towards religious communities is already discriminatory and repressive, the unconstitutional changes introduced by the new Defense Code cause even greater alarm. In addition to creating new areas of discrimination based on religion, the government wishes to collect specific personal information such as a person’s beliefs and religion. Similar methods are used by authoritarian regimes. 

Since the initiation of the Defense Code Bill, the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) has been actively urging Parliament not to pass the law in a way that would explicitly violate constitutional rights. For this purpose, the TDI repeatedly appealed to the authorities, participated in numerous meetings and consultations, and constantly called on opposition political parties and politicians to act against the alarming changes.

This issue was also protested against by the Council of Religions under the Public Defender, which urged the Parliament of Georgia not to adopt the bill as presented.

Unfortunately, the government still managed to pass the anti-constitutional Defense Code along with its accompanying legislative initiatives.

TDI will continue to work actively to change the anti-constitutional legislation that violates freedom of religion and religious equality.

TDI’s statements and assessments on the amendments to the defense code and related laws: 

Legislative amendments on the military service of clergy – assessment by TDI, February 2023 

TDI’s statement on the adoption of the first reading of the Defense Code, April 2023 (available in Georgian) 

The government continues to review discriminatory military legislation, July 2023

Further reading about FORB in Georgia on HRWF website