OffbeatRefusing to Serve in South Korea's Military Was a Crime. Not Anymore

01:35  09 november  2018
01:35  09 november  2018 Source:   ozy.com

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South Korea jails more conscientious objectors than the rest of the world put together, according to Amnesty International, with hundreds imprisoned every year, many of them Jehovah' s Witnesses who refuse to serve "Conscientious objection is not a crime and we urge the government to go further.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea ’ s Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the government to introduce civilian forms of service for conscientious objectors, sparing hundreds of young men from going to prison each year for refusing to serve in the military for reasons of conscience or religious

Refusing to Serve in South Korea's Military Was a Crime. Not Anymore© Provided by Ozy Media, Inc.

South Korea’s Supreme Court has ruled that conscientious objection is a valid reason to refuse to do military service in a landmark decision in a nation where mandatory duty has been strictly enforced for decades.

The ruling last week effectively decriminalizes those who refuse to be conscripted for the 21-month mandatory duty period if they object to the service on religious or conscientious grounds.

The decision — which builds on a constitutional court judgment in June that demanded alternative forms of service be available for objectors — has been hailed as a progressive shift in the deeply conservative nation.

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Conscription in South Korea has existed since 1957 and requires male citizens between the ages of 18 and 35 to perform about two years of compulsory military service .

Crime in South Korea is among the lowest compared to other developed nations. Violent crimes (such as homicide, assault and arson) and property crimes (such as theft, fraud and vandalism)

“Punishing [conscientious objectors] for refusing conscription on the grounds of religious faith, in other words, freedom of conscience, is deemed an excessive constraint to an individual’s freedom of conscience … and goes against democracy that stands for tolerance of minorities,” the court said in its ruling.

Since conscription was introduced in the 1950s to serve as a buffer against the massive North Korean army, nearly 20,000 South Korean men have been convicted for refusing to serve as conscientious objectors.

“Today’s was a landmark decision. It is more progressive than expected,” said Kim Jiyoon, a senior research fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, adding that it could open the door to cases of bogus conscientious objectors.

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A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service " on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.

South Korea requires all of its male citizens to serve in the military for two years. The service is mandatory mainly because our relationship with North Korea . After things got intensified after the Korean War, there was a need for an active force for the South Koreans , so the military can always

The country’s Military Service Act specifies a three-year sentence for the offense, although most serve 18 months. In recent years, however, the momentum behind the convictions began to wane. The constitutional court ruling in June considered a turning point, came at the conclusion of an appeal by Oh Seung-hun, who in 2013 was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to do military service on the grounds he was a Jehovah’s Witness and that army duty was against his faith.

The decision bodes positively for the more than 900 similar cases before the courts in South Korea.

“Today’s ruling is a forward-looking ruling that emphasizes the value of a free democratic society and the diversity of individual convictions,” says Huh Yoon, a lawyer with the Seoul Bar Association. “Thanks to the decision, the pending cases of conscientious objectors are likely to be cleared and prosecutors are likely to become more passive about prosecuting them as well.”

Since the election of liberal President Moon Jae-in last year, many of South Korea’s institutions have tacked to the left.

Kim said the Supreme Court was attempting to burnish its progressive credentials after its involvement in a corruption saga under the previous administration.

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