Supreme Court acquits man refusing to train with reservesThe Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted a 30-year-old man charged with refusing to submit himself for annual reservist training, recognizing for the first time that non-religious conscientious objectors could also claim an exemption from military training.
Reading the top court’s ruling, presiding Judge Lee Heung-goo said, “Although it is not based in religious belief, the defendant’s rejection of reservist training stems from a sincere conscientious objection grounded in his ethical, moral and philosophical convictions. We therefore see this as a justifiable application of the provision in the Reserve Forces Act for declining participation.”
For decades, Korean courts did not accept conscientious objection as a reason for not fulfilling the country’s military service requirement for able-bodied men, leading to the imprisonment of hundreds of men each year — most of them Jehovah’s Witnesses — for refusing to serve in the armed forces as required by the Military Service Act.
Under the Reserve Forces Act, Korean men are required to attend annual reservist training for eight years following their release from active duty, which is also included in military service obligations.
However, the Constitutional Court in June 2018 ruled that the government’s failure to provide other forms of national service was unconstitutional and ordered the government to introduce alternative options for conscientious objectors in lieu of active military service. Shortly thereafter in November 2018, the Supreme Court acquitted a Jehovah’s Witness who refused to serve in the military, accepting “conscience or religious beliefs” as justifiable reasons for refusing military service.
Since then, the government has introduced a three-year long alternative service option for conscientious objectors.
Thursday’s judgement marks the first time that the Supreme Court has accepted a non-religious reason based on conscience to acquit someone accused of rejecting military service. The case is also an unusual instance where the court has applied the provision for conscientious objection to reservists, as opposed to men being called up for conscription.
The defendant acquitted by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday completed his active service requirement in February 2013 but was accused of refusing 16 summons to attend reservist training between March 2016 and April 2018.
At his Supreme Court trial, the man testified, “Growing up under a violent father, I underwent a self-awakening about the use of force. Later, I saw a video of American soldiers shooting civilians from a helicopter, which led me to renounce the idea of possibly killing or murdering another human being.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]