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Supreme Court finds 14th conscientious objector guilty

The Supreme Court on Sunday upheld a prison sentence for a man refusing to do military service on religious grounds. This is the 14th time the Supreme Court approved of imprisonment for those refusing military service on religious grounds so far this year.

In the latest case, the 22-year old man identified by the surname Shin was tried for refusing to join the military after he received his draft letter in December 2015. The first court to try Shin had found him innocent, saying that forcing him to serve military duty against his religious beliefs was “demolishment of existential value” of Shin as a person. However, the appeals court sentenced him to an 18 month imprisonment, saying that that religion cannot be considered a justifiable reason for refusing military service under current laws, and social system.

Protesters are trapped inside what looks like a prison in Seoul on May 15, 2017, as they rally to demand the government not punish conscientious objectors and introduce alternative service options for them in observance of the International Conscientious Objectors Day that fell on the same day. (Yonhap)
Protesters are trapped inside what looks like a prison in Seoul on May 15, 2017, as they rally to demand the government not punish conscientious objectors and introduce alternative service options for them in observance of the International Conscientious Objectors Day that fell on the same day. (Yonhap)

“Conscientious objection does not qualify as ‘justifiable reason’ for exempting from punishment under current laws,” the Supreme Court said in its ruling.

“The UN Human Rights Committee recommendation against penalizing conscientious objectors is not legally binding,” it continued.

The issue of conscientious objectors has been a subject of controversy for some years, and is currently under review by the Constitutional Court.

Article 39 of the Constitution states that all Korean nationals have the duty of national defense under conditions stipulated in related laws. Under the Military Service Act, all able-bodied men deemed fit for service must serve in the military or in alternative services provided under the law.

The Constitution, however, also provides for freedom of religion and protects against discrimination based on religious beliefs.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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