A South Korean man was found guilty of obtaining Canadian citizenship to evade the country’s mandatory military service, court officials said on Thursday.
The Seoul Central District Court upheld a ruling last Friday sentencing the 37-year-old man, identified by the surname Lee, to six months in prison with a one-year stay of execution for giving up his Korean nationality to avoid military conscription.
Lee is expected to be deported to Canada as under the country’s Immigration Control Act foreign nationals who receive jail sentences, including suspended sentences, are subject to deportation.
“Military service is a duty for citizens of South Korea in order to exercise their rights and receive various benefits. A heavy punishment is necessary for dodging that responsibility,” the court said in its ruling.
The case began in 1998 when Lee, then 21, requested permission to go overseas from the Military Manpower Administration, explaining that he would study in the U.S. The MMA granted Lee’s request and gave him two years to stay abroad from Nov. 11, 1998.
But Lee stayed overseas more than 10 years, receiving Canadian citizenship and then renouncing his Korean nationality in 2011.
South Korean law stipulates that all South Korean men over the age of 18 are subject to compulsory military service. All able-bodied men must serve for at least 21 months in South Korea’s 639,000-strong military before they turn 30.
While some consider military service a sacred duty, others find ways to get exempted, such as abandoning their nationality, feigning insanity or undergoing major surgeries.
Court documents show that Lee returned to Korea to marry a Korean woman in January and planned to raise a family here.
In 2013, the prosecution indicted Lee for violating the military service act and a district court gave him a suspended jail sentence.
Lee appealed, requesting that the court defer the sentence and pleading for mercy, saying that he needs to take care of his mother, whose health has quickly worsened after a recent surgery.
The appeals court dismissed Lee’s request, saying “rights carry duties.”
“There’s a high chance that Lee could become an example for others who seek to avoid conscription. The suspended sentence in the original ruling was not an excessive punishment for the defendant,” the court said.
By Suk Gee-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org