Supreme Court upholds acquittal of military conscientious objector

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Supreme Court upholds acquittal of military conscientious objector

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court's acquittal of a man who refused the military draft due to his belief in non-violence.
 
This is first case in which a conscientious objector who is not a Jehovah's Witness has been acquitted of violating the Military Service Act.
 
Chief Justice Kim Seon-soo, who presided over the trial, confirmed the appeals court's ruling that acquitted the man of violating the law. In its judgement, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendant's beliefs are "deeply established" and deemed that his refusal to serve "was in accordance with his true conscience."
 
Another conscientious objector who is not a Jehovah's Witness was previously found not guilty of violating the military draft law by refusing to report for reservist training in February. However, that case was unique in that the court applied the provision for conscientious objection to reservists, as opposed to men being called up for conscription.
 
The man in Thursday's trial was originally indicted for failing to join the military without justifiable reasons even after receiving a notice of enlistment in 2017. However, he pleaded not guilty of the charge, saying he refused to join the military based on his conscience.
 
Although originally sentenced to a year and six months in prison in his first trial, the appeals court deemed his beliefs were "clearly established since he expressed a willingness to work 36 months in a prison or detention center in lieu of active military service," and that "it is difficult to see this as a strategic move on his part."
 
The man, who identifies as LGBTQ, said that since high school he has felt a strong revulsion toward organized group culture and that he participated in anti-war demonstrations according to his Christian beliefs that emphasize love and peace.
 
The man has previously participated in a prayer meeting denouncing Israeli military action, an anti-war demonstration marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War (1950-53) and a protest against the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong village, Jeju Island.
 
He also argued that as a queer feminist, he could not tolerate joining the military, which he views as destroying diversity and upholding discrimination. He also said that he could not submit to the state simply because it defines him as being eligible for the draft according to his biological sex.
 
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.
 
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.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
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