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(Reuters) – A court in Russia’s second-biggest city St Petersburg upheld for the first time the right of a soldier conscripted during the military campaign in Ukraine to perform alternative civil service, a rights group said.

The group Voenniy Ombudsmen (Military Ombudsman) said the Leningrad Region Court ruled on Thursday that Pavel Mushumansky was entitled to perform alternative service on the grounds of his religious beliefs.

Media reports from St. Petersburg said Mushumansky was an evangelical Christian and had already done alternative service in 2019 in place of his military service.

He was called up under President Vladimir Putin’s “partial mobilisation” order in September, but his request for a similar arrangement was rejected by military authorities. He was sent to a military unit.

A court outside St. Petersburg subsequently upheld his right to alternative service and Thursday’s ruling threw out an appeal launched by military officials on grounds that his right was not applicable to the special call-up.

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“The ruling of the (lower court) was left in place with no changes and the appeal was rejected,” local news site quoted his lawyer, Alexander Peredruk, as saying.

“There are formalities to complete linked to his discharge, but there are no grounds to keep him at the military base.”

“A precedent has been set,” Voenniy Ombudsman, which defends the rights of servicemen, said in its account of the ruling.

Officials said Putin’s mobilisation order, issued as Moscow’s military campaign ran into difficulty in Ukraine, resulted in 300,000 men being drafted.

But it also generated resistance, with protests in some areas and thousands of men leaving Russia. There have been widespread suggestions a new mobilisation order may be issued, but no plans have been announced.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski in Canada; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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