The Supreme Court rules on religious belief Valid reason for refusing compulsory military service


(Image: Kobiz Media / Korea Bizwire)

(Image: Kobiz Media / Korea Bizwire)

SEOUL, November 1 (Korea Bizwire)The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that religious and conscientious beliefs should be considered valid reasons for refusing the military service warrant, overturning its ruling from 14 years ago.

In a 9-4 vote, the entire judiciary led by Chief Justice Kim Meong-su delivered the ruling and ordered an appeals court to retry the Oh Seung-hun case, stating indeed that the appellant should be cleared of the conviction.

Thursday’s ruling potentially allows 227 other similar cases pending before the highest court and some 930 conscientious objectors currently on trial in Korea to avoid criminal convictions for disobeying the warrant and replace their duties with alternative services.

“Punishing (conscientious objectors) for refusing conscription on grounds of religious faith, in other words, freedom of conscience, is considered undue hardship on an individual’s freedom of conscience… and goes to against democracy which defends the tolerance of minorities, “said the court. ruled.

The latest decision follows the decision of the Constitutional Court of June 28 which recognized for the first time the need for an alternative service for conscientious objectors.

Oh was sentenced to 18 months in prison for refusing to perform his military duty, which applies to all able-bodied men in the country. He argued that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and that serving in the military was against his religious faith.

“This verdict was made possible by the patience of my predecessors and colleagues who total some 20,000 people,” Oh told reporters. “I hope there will also be forward-looking and positive decisions in about 930 pending cases as well.”

Oh said he is well aware of concerns that conscientious objection could be misused as a means to dodge military service and that he will try to perform alternative service in a sincere manner in order to dispel these worries.

Lower courts have increasingly handed down not guilty verdicts for conscientious objectors since the first judgment in 2016.

The current law on military service stipulates that objectors face up to three years in prison. Since the 1950s, around 19,000 conscientious objectors have been arrested and served time, most of them 18 months in prison.

In the three previous hearings, the highest court ruled in favor of the law and found the accused guilty. The court had cited that military obligation prevails over individual freedom of conscience, because the two Koreas are technically at war, since the Korean War of 1950-53 ended with a truce and not with a peace treaty. Thursday’s decision overturned those decisions.

Public hearings have been held on the issue since the last decision of the Constitutional Court. Experts and lawmakers are leaning towards the idea of ​​working in public institutions, such as state prisons or fire stations, for twice the term of office.


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