Conscientious objector ruled guilty

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Conscientious objector ruled guilty

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld an 18-month prison sentence for a man who refused to join the Army citing his religious beliefs, a decision that supported a long-disputed clause in the country’s conscription law that prohibits one from objecting to military duty due to religious or personal reasons.

The court’s move on Thursday to uphold the prison term for the defendant, surnamed Ahn, 21, followed two previous rulings by lower courts that also found him guilty of evading his mandatory military service.

“Objecting to one’s duty in the name of conscience does not belong on the list of justifiable causes that exempt one from punishment [for not serving in the military],” the highest court ruled following deliberations.

It added that the current conscription law - criticized by civic groups that advocate substituting military duty with nonviolent civic service for conscientious objectors - is considered “constitutional” by the Constitutional Court.

Ahn is a Jehovah’s Witness, and members of the Christian denomination have long challenged the Military Service Act, as their teachings reject the use weapons or participation in combat training, citing the pacifist tenants of the Bible.

Many Jehovah’s Witnesses here have opted to go to prison instead of joining the armed forces, which has raised the issue of whether the state should recognize one’s religious freedoms and find a suitable substitute for military service.

Critics of the Military Service Act argue one’s religious beliefs should be respected, as those are contained within a person’s fundamental rights.

Supporters of the current system, on the other hand, say that it would be difficult to distinguish those who want to replace their military duty with nonmilitary service over religious values from those who are simply trying to exploit legal loopholes to avoid it.

By law, all able-bodied South Korean men between 18 and 35 years old are obligated to serve in the military for about two years. North and South Korea are technically still at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not with a peace treaty.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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