More than 17,000 conscientious objectors have been given prison sentences since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, according to data from civic groups.
The number of conscientious objectors has risen with the increase in civil liberties. The figures showed that more than 8,200 of the 17,000 were sentenced between 2001 and 2012, while just over 4,000 people were imprisoned for the offense between 1994 and 2000. The figure for the 1980 to 1993 period, when the military governments of Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo were in power, was 3,148.
The number of conscientious objectors on trial and currently in prison this year respectively stood at 119 and 743 at the end of October.
As Korea continues to punish conscientious objectors, the international community has been moving in the opposite direction.
Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council recommended Korea introduce alternatives to military service, expressing concerns for conscientious objectors’ human rights.
The U.N. Human Rights Council also sided with conscientious objectors in April 2011, when it concluded that sentencing such individuals to prison violates Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion should to be guaranteed to everyone.
Local opinion also appears to be moving in favor of conscientious objectors.
According to surveys conducted by the Military Manpower Administration, the proportion of the public supporting the introduction of alternative service increased from 28.9 percent in 2008 to 43.5 percent last year.
The Ministry of National Defense had planned to develop alternatives that would have required personnel to serve twice as long as enlisted soldiers. The plans, however, were abandoned during the Lee Myung-bak administration, which took power in 2008.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com