By Guest Nicole
Born to a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baek Jong-keon realized the price of his faith in South Korea at an early age.Â
His father had gone to jail for refusing to take up arms, and his three older brothers chose the same path when the time came for them to serve their mandatory military service.Â
Baek Jong-keon works as an assistant at a law firm in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. Bak Se-hwan/The Korea Herald
In a country where all able-bodied men are required to serve in the military to defend against North KoreaÂ’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces, it seemed like a bleak future awaited him, too.Â
Â“I grew up watching my father -- and my three brothers -- go to jail for objecting to the mandatory military service. It was hard to overcome the fear and the pain as a kid,Â” said Baek, 33, in an interview with The Korea Herald.Â
Â“ThatÂ’s why I wanted to become a lawyer -- to change the situation.Â”Â
Baek also chose the life of a conscientious objector in South Korea -- or the life of a convicted Â“draft dodger.Â” He was sentenced to 18 months in jail by the Supreme Court in 2016.Â
He served his prison term and was released in May this year. The Korean Bar Association suspended his lawyerÂ’s license for five years, a possibility that he had known since he was preparing for the bar exam.Â
All this, however, does not mean Baek is accepting things as they are. Now working as an assistant at a small law firm, he is fighting to regain his license. He has been rejected once, but is still fighting.Â
He is also fighting for the sake of other conscientious objectors to have the government and society recognize their freedom of conscience and offer them alternative ways to serve the country.Â
Â“Roughly 400 young conscientious objectors are currently in jail. I think that we should seriously consider giving them alternative forms of military service instead of just treating them as outlaws,Â” he said.Â
Since 2013, nearly 2,500 people were prosecuted for failing to enlist in the military, according to data from the Military Manpower Administration. The military service law mandates a prison sentence of up to three years for men who avoid the draft.Â
A majority of the 2,500 are JehovahÂ’s Witnesses, who object to any form of militarism. Of the total, 15 are unreligious, objecting conscription based on their personal beliefs and the principles of Â“no violenceÂ” and Â“no war.Â”Â
But there are growing signs that the judicial system may be easing its stance on conscientious objectors. This year alone,Â 40 acquittals were made at lower courts for conscientious objectors, five times more than in 2016, reflecting a possible change in legal perceptions.Â
Although no final decision by the Supreme Court to uphold the acquittals has been made yet, the repeated rulings in favor of the objectors are pressing the government to react.
The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the conscription law, with several complaints filed regarding conscientious objection.
During his confirmation hearing at the National Assembly last month, new Constitutional Court chief Lee Jin-sung hinted at the need to change the long-entrenched judicial practice against conscientious objection.Â
Â“We should take the situation seriously where people endure being sent to prison for their adherence to their conscience,Â” Lee said.Â
Views on conscientious objection seem to be changing as well.
According to a survey by the National Human Rights Commission, 46.1 percent of people said last year the government should allow conscientious objection, up 12.8 percentage points from 33.3 percent in a 2011 poll.Â
Â“The answer is simple,Â” Baek said. Â“We just have to adopt legislation that allows conscientious objectors to carry out an appropriate alternative service of a length comparable to that of military service.Â”Â
Three bills are pending at the National Assembly seeking to add alternative options to the mandatory military service system.Â
Critics argue it is premature to adopt an alternative service program, especially amid ongoing threats from North Korea. It would also affect the morale of conscripted soldiers to see those citing faith -- which is hard to prove -- being allowed to avoid the tough life in barracks.Â
Â“We do not ask for special treatment,Â” Baek said.Â
Â“Some people wrongly assume that we would be exempted from the national duty mandated to all male citizens of South Korea once the court rules in favor of conscientious objection.
Â“But we are willing to serve our country once an alternative service for objectors is introduced. That will allow us to contribute to the community in a way that does not conflict with our conscience, for instance, in the areas of public health, social welfare, the environment and labor,Â” Baek added.Â
He also believes that religious conscientious objectors have an important role to play.Â
Â“It is our part not to give up and to keep hope alive. I hope they do not resign themselves to be sent to jail, but keep appealing against the prison term to bring about change,Â” Baek said.Â
By Bak Se-hwan (email@example.com)
By Guest Nicole
Jeong Chun-guk, who served the longest time in Korea for conscientious objection, seven years, is now a farmer. [KIM SEONG-TAE]
For 69-year-old Jeong Chun-guk, whose seven years and 10 months in jail is still the longest time ever served by a conscientious objector to mandatory military service in Korea, the struggle for peace has finally led him to a tranquil plot of land in Geumsan County, South Chungcheong, where he can focus on farming and his faith.
Â“I believed that it was more important to spread the new world I discovered within the Bible,Â” he says of his decision not to serve in the military. He had followed his motherÂ’s footsteps, becoming a JehovahÂ’s Witness when he was a freshman studying medicine at Chungnam National University in Daejeon.Â
JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have traditionally held a view that worship should be only to the Â“Kingdom of God,Â” therefore banning allegiance or participation in any national government or politics among their faithful. Though taught to obey the laws of where they inhabit, JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have been known to disobey the laws that conflict with their doctrines, such as denying blood transfusion and refusing to serve military duties.Â
His father, a prison officer, was at a loss for words upon hearing that Jeong had dropped out of school after only one semester.Â
Â“The watchtower my father climbed with his lunch box seemed like a great dungeon from some novel,Â” he says. Â“I never imagined that I would live in such a place.Â”Â
When Jeong turned 21 in 1969, he was incarcerated for 10 months, at the height of anti-communist sentiment following the Blue House raid on Jan. 21, 1968, when North Korean commandos attempted to assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee.Â
After the October Restoration of 1972, in which Park assumed dictatorial powers, conscientious objectors and their families were publicly shamed and the penalty was sharply increased with amendments to the Military Service Law and the new Special Acts for Violation of Military Service Law.Â
At 26, Jeong received another draft notice and arrest warrant. He sent Daejeon District court a seven-page appeal, but the appeal judge sentenced him to three years in prison, twice the initial sentencing.Â
Prison guards, he came to learn, were particularly brutal towards JehovahÂ’s Witnesses. Â“Fearing that JehovahÂ’s Witnesses might proselytize, they did not make us work. Instead we were forced to sit down for the whole day. The only times we could stand up were during our three meals and 15-minute exercise sessions,Â” says Jeong. Â“We prayed so that we may work standing.Â”Â
In those days, the Military Service Law did not allow exemptions from service until three years of penal labor had been served. The Supreme Court deemed it legal to repeat this punishment every time military service was declined, so Jeong was sentenced again in 1974.Â
Upon completing his second sentence at 29, he asked the Military Manpower Administration why a university dropout like himself was being drafted.Â
The Military Service Law back then considered candidates eligible for active duty from the time they graduated high school until the age of 28. But for undergraduates, this was extended to 30.Â
The administration replied that even freshman dropouts were considered undergraduates.Â
One day in February 1977, as he was waiting to finally go home, Jeong was taken to the 32nd Infantry Division.Â
He received another four years in jail from the military court on the conviction of Â“disobeying orders.Â” Â“I thought this was the end,Â” says Jeong, Â“I remember crying at the sight of my motherÂ’s tear-filled eyes.Â”Â
His punishment ended in 1981 at the age of 33.Â
Â“It was strange to see no one stalking me from behind as I walked home,Â” he says.Â
Recently, a lawyer advised him to re-open his case, but Jeon has decided against this. Â“ItÂ’s not impossible to empathize with those who try to protect society by policing those who step out of line,Â” he says, Â“even if they have the strangest reasons.Â”Â
BY MOON HYEON-KYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
By Guest Nicole
The U.S. Commission in International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sounded the alarm about the "worsening" state of affairs for religious freedom across the globe in its report for this year, the Christian News Network reported.
The report, released on Wednesday last week, urges the U.S. Department of State to designate 16 more nations as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), citing particular instances in those countries that merited their inclusion in the list.
"Overall, the Commission has concluded that the state of affairs for international religious freedom is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations," said USCIRF Chairman Thomas Reese in a statement.
"The blatant assaults have become so frightening—attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents, and wholesale destruction of places of worship—that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated," he pointed out.
Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a USCIRF member, said during a panel discussion on Wednesday in Washington D.C. that the commission "specifically name names so that those stories are lifted and people gain the strength that they need in order to continue fighting for their faith," CBN News reported.
The commission urged the State Department to designate six nations—Russia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam as countries of concern.
The commission blew the whistle on Russia due to worsening religious freedoms in that country, which became even more evident with the recent ban of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Once again, North Korea topped the USCIRF list of countries with the most repressive regimes, noting that freedom of religion is non-existent in that communist nation.
North Korea is also Number 1 on Open Doors USA's World Watch list of the top 50 Christian-persecuting countries in the world.
The Commission urged both Congress and the Trump administration to continually speak up about religious freedom abuses around the world, both in public and in private meetings.
"You cannot have religious freedom without the freedom of worship, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom of assembly, protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, [and] protection from interference in home and family," the report states.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/assaults-on-religious-freedom-worsening-worldwide-says-u-s-annual-report-184494/#4lzIKswKL2TVtmGV.99
By Guest Nicole
A performance criticizing the government’s handling of conscientious objectors, at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square by Amnesty International Korea, the Center for Military Human Rights, World Without War, and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to call for an end to the publishing of personal data on military service evaders, Mar. 28. (by Kim Tae-hyeong, staff photographer)
Objectors and civic groups calling for government to introduce alternative forms of service, instead of punishment
On Feb. 23, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) sent a notice to 23-year-old Park Sang-wook informing him that his personal details were to be made public as a military service evader. Park’s failure to report to the training center on his reported enlistment date of Dec. 26 was defined by the MMA as “evasion of active military service.” Barring special grounds, the notice informed him, his name, age, address, and other personal details would be published online at the end of the year.Park is a conscientious objector. His decision not to perform military service was motivated not by religious reasons, but by his pacifist convictions. On Mar. 28, he took the microphone at a press conference organized at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square by Amnesty International Korea, the Center for Military Human Rights, World Without War, and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) to call for an end to the publishing of personal data on military service evaders.“What is evasion? It means deliberately avoiding a task because of laziness,” he said.“Under the guise of ‘protecting the public,’ the state has established a rigid military state and is massacring its own citizens or deploying them as hired soldiers,” he continued. “Tarnished as it is by defense industry corruption and suspicious deaths, isn‘t it the military itself that is really full of evasion?”Park is awaiting trial after being indicted this month for violating the Military Service Act. Unless he can present special grounds, he will have to spend eighteen months in prison. Barring other circumstances, he will have his name, address, and other personal data made public in December as a military service evader.As a fellow conscientious objector, PSPD secretary Hong Jeong-hoon is in a similar position.“Publishing personal data for someone undergoing trial defies common sense,” Hong said at the press conference.“We need to recognize individuals’ conscience and convictions and institute a system for alternative forms of military service,” he continued.Last year, the MMA began publishing personal information about military service evaders, including their name, age, address, and the nature of their evasion. The Ministry of National Defense instituted the system to prevent evasion at higher echelons in particular and promote an atmosphere of diligent military service compliance. In late 2016, it published the first list of 237 military service evaders who had not reported by December since an amendment to the Military Service Act went into effect in July 2015.The group World Without War noted that “at least 160 of the 237 people were conscientious objectors as Jehovah’s Witnesses, suggesting conscientious objects represent the majority of the system’s targets.”“As a system that seeks to use shaming to force compliance with military service duties, this system has no effect whatsoever on conscientious objectors who feel they cannot defy the dictates of their conscience, even if it means going to prison,” the group said.Speaking at the press conference, Amnesty International Korea secretary Park Seung-ho explained, “The United Nations Human Rights Committee previously said it was a breach of protocol for the South Korean government to impose prison sentences on conscientious objectors without giving them an opportunity for alternative service.”“Now the South Korean government has built up the conscientious objection issue so much that we can talk about conscientious objection being a right in itself,” Park added.“Instead of infringing more on human rights by releasing personal information, what the South Korean government should be doing is honoring its promises to the international community.”By Park Su-ji, staff reporterPlease direct questions or comments to [email@example.com]
7 MARCA 2017
Korea Południowa niesprawiedliwie traktuje Dong-hyuk Shina
Władze Korei Południowej wtrącają do więzienia setki osób odmawiających służby wojskowej ze względu na sumienie. Karze podlegają również mężczyźni, którzy odmawiają stawienia się na ćwiczenia wojskowe po odbyciu zasadniczej służby wojskowej i przeniesieniu do rezerwy.
Dorastając w Korei Południowej, Dong-hyuk Shin wiedział, że pewnego dnia otrzyma powołanie do wojska. Stawił się do odbycia służby wojskowej, a w 2005 roku został automatycznie przeniesiony do rezerwy. Rezerwiści są przez kolejne osiem lat regularnie wzywani do odbycia ćwiczeń wojskowych.
Krótko po zwolnieniu ze służby Dong-hyuk Shin zaczął studiować Biblię. Jej pokojowe przesłanie poruszyło jego sumienie i pobudziło go do zmiany stosunku do służby wojskowej. Gdy w marcu 2006 roku został wezwany na ćwiczenia dla rezerwistów, poinformował władze wojskowe, że nie może zgodzić się na szkolenie, ponieważ byłoby to sprzeczne z jego sumieniem.
Brak poszanowania wolności sumienia
Korea Południowa nie uznaje prawa do podyktowanej sumieniem odmowy pełnienia służby wojskowej. Obecnie wzywa na ćwiczenia dla rezerwistów ponad 40 Świadków Jehowy, którzy odmawiają służby wojskowej ze względu na sumienie.
Wojsko zignorowało przyczyny, dla których Dong-hyuk Shin odmawiał wzięcia udziału w ćwiczeniach rezerwistów, i w ciągu roku kalendarzowego 2006 skierowało do niego w sumie 30 wezwań. Dong-hyuk Shin otrzymywał wezwania przez kolejne siedem lat. Od marca 2006 do grudnia 2013 roku odebrał ich łącznie 118 *. Ponieważ za każdym razem z szacunkiem odmawiał stawienia się na ćwiczenia, 49 razy był sądzony i uznany za winnego, 69 razy stawał przed sądami pierwszej i drugiej instancji oraz otrzymał w sumie 35 wyroków.
„Nie miał innego wyjścia”
Sądy nie miały wątpliwości, że Dong-hyuk Shin szczerze trzymał się głosu swojego sumienia. W swojej decyzji z 7 października 2014 roku Sąd Rejonowy w Ulsan orzekł: „To zrozumiałe, że gdy [Dong-hyuk Shin] został Świadkiem Jehowy, w tej sytuacji nie miał innego wyjścia, jak tylko złamać prawo, ponieważ nie mógł pogodzić służby wojskowej ze swoim wewnętrznym sumieniem i przekonaniami religijnymi”.
Chociaż Sąd Rejonowy ze zrozumieniem odniósł się do trudnego położenia Dong-hyuk Shina, możliwości sądów południowokoreańskich są ograniczone przepisami prawa o służbie wojskowej. Dong-hyuk Shin został ukarany przez sądy grzywnami w wysokości ponad 16 milionów wonów (około 55 000 złotych) i sześć razy skazany w zawieszeniu na pozbawienie wolności na okres przynajmniej sześciu miesięcy. W jednej sprawie sąd skazał go na 200 godzin prac społecznych.
Dong-hyuk Shin mówi: „Byłem tym strasznie udręczony. Miałem wrażenie, że ta próba nigdy się nie skończy. Moje częste wizyty w sądzie martwiły też moją rodzinę. Myślę, że przez te dziewięć lat tak samo jak ja cierpiała moja mama, a cały ten stres wpłynął niekorzystnie na jej zdrowie. Serce mi pękało, gdy widziałem, jak zadręcza się ona z powodu mojej sytuacji. Ucierpiałem też pod względem finansowym. Ciągłe wezwania, późniejsze postępowania sądowe i wyroki zmusiły mnie siedem razy do zmiany miejsca zatrudnienia, ponieważ z powodu obowiązku stawiania się w sądzie rosła moja absencja w pracy”.
Naruszenie umów międzynarodowych
Dong-hyuk Shin bezskutecznie odwoływał się od każdego z wyroków do sądów południowokoreańskich — Sąd Najwyższy czterokrotnie odrzucił jego skargi. Po wyczerpaniu środków prawnych w Korei Południowej w czerwcu 2016 roku Dong-hyuk Shin wniósł skargę do Komitetu Praw Człowieka ONZ. Stwierdził w niej, że poprzez ciągłe wezwania, postępowania sądowe i wyroki skazujące Korea Południowa nie wywiązała się z obowiązku przestrzegania Międzynarodowego Paktu Praw Obywatelskich i Politycznych. Skarga dotyczy trzech zagadnień:
Wielokrotne powoływanie do wojska osób odmawiających służby wojskowej ze względu na sumienie i ponownie karanie ich za tę odmowę jest jednoznacznie uznane w prawie międzynarodowym za pogwałcenie prawa do rzetelnego procesu.
Wielokrotne wezwania do odbycia ćwiczeń wojskowych i idące za tym procesy karne potwierdzają oczywisty cel działania urzędników państwowych, którym jest przymuszenie do służby wojskowej. Życie Dong-hyuk Shina wypełniły nękające oskarżenia i przewody sądowe, a lekceważenie i uznawanie trzymania się swoich przekonań religijnych za przestępstwo stanowiło upokarzającą karę.
Ponieważ Dong-hyuk Shin sprzeciwia się odbyciu służby wojskowej z powodu mocnych przekonań religijnych, uważa on, że naruszono jego prawo do wolności sumienia i wyznania.
Oczekiwanie na ulgę
Dong-hyuk Shin jest pełen optymizmu, że jego skarga zostanie rozpatrzona pozytywnie, ponieważ Komitet wielokrotnie orzekał, iż Korea Południowa powinna przestrzegać podyktowanego sumieniem prawa do odmowy służby wojskowej *. Z nadzieją oczekuje na decyzję, która uwzględni szczególną sytuację osób przeniesionych do rezerwy. Dong-hyuk Shin mówi: „Nie żałuję, że muszę bronić moich przekonań religijnych i sumienia, ale sprzeciwiam się temu, jak byłem traktowany. Mam nadzieję, że władze Korei Południowej uznają to, że ludzie mają prawo odmówić wypełnienia obowiązku nałożonego przez państwo, jeśli jest on sprzeczny z nakazami sumienia”. Podobne stanowisko zajmują Świadkowie Jehowy w Korei Południowej i na całym świecie.
„Wielokrotne karanie osób odmawiających służby wojskowej z powodów sumienia za niezastosowanie się do ponownego wezwania do służby oznacza powtórne karanie za ten sam czyn, jeśli kolejna odmowa wynika z tych samych niezmiennych przyczyn opartych na sumieniu” (Orzeczenie Komitetu Praw Człowieka, Zafar Abdullayev v. Turkmenistan, Communication No. 2218/2012, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/113/D/2218/2012, 25 marca 2015)
NAJCZĘŚCIEJ ZADAWANE PYTANIA
Dlaczego Świadkowie Jehowy nie idą na wojnę?
Świadkowie Jehowy są znani z tego, że nie uczestniczą w wojnach. Dowiedz się dlaczego.
Support for conscientious objection increases
By Kim Se-jeong
The number of people in Korea who support conscientious objection has risen significantly over the last decade, a recent survey showed, Monday.
According to the survey conducted by the National Human Rights Commission on 2,556 people aged 15 or older from May to December, 46.1 percent of respondents said the country should allow conscientious objection.
The commission has conducted the survey regularly and the support ratio has increased from 10.2 percent in 2005 to 33.3 percent in 2011.
"Tolerance has improved, but it is clear that conscientious objection is still a contentious issue in Korean society," the commission said in a report. "The number shows it is time for open discussion about it."
The survey didn't mention what contributed to the change in public opinion.
All able-bodied men aged 18 or older in Korea are obliged to serve in the military. Objectors are subject to prison terms. According to statistics, almost 600 men are punished every year for refusing to serve.
Most objectors in Korea cite religion or personal belief in peace as reasons for refusal. Many of them are Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination.
They demand the government give them an opportunity to serve the country in other ways by introducing alternative services. But the government has refused to accommodate their request, saying no exception is allowed for compulsory military service.
The survey results came out hours before a local court ruling in favor of conscientious objection.
Siding with a 23-year-old conscientious objector surnamed Park, the Jeonju District Court in North Jeolla Province said, "We recognized that the defendant refused to serve on the basis of his religion and values, which is an individual freedom given to all."
Park, a Jehovah's Witness, was taken to court by the government in June last year after refusing to comply with the mandatory service.
A dozen other local courts and an appeals court in Gwangju have also ruled in favor of conscientious objectors.
The Constitutional Court has been reviewing petitions from such people and is expected to make a ruling sometime early this year on whether compulsory military service infringes on individuals' freedoms and whether the country needs to allow alternative services.
The ruling was originally due by the end of last year, but was put off as the court has been focusing on the review of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment.
In 2004 and 2011, it ruled against objectors.
THE KOREAN TIMES
Posted : 2017-01-10
By Kim Se-jeong
By Guest Nicole
By Guest Nicole
By Kim Se-jeong
An Jung-hyun, 23, is a Jehovah's Witness on trial for refusing to fulfill his compulsory military service. He was found guilty twice in lower courts, and appealed to the Supreme Court in July. Lawyers told him his chances of winning were low given the highest court's precedents, but he is cautiously hopeful.
This year alone, district courts acquitted nine fellow Jehovah's Witnesses of violations of the Military Law. The most recent ruling came one week ago from the Cheongju District Court which stated, "There are many ways to contribute to the nation without violating a person's basic rights such as social service or alternate work. It is unjust to punish military objectors by criminal law without even making efforts to provide alternatives."
Another hopeful sign comes from Kim Jae-hyung, a Supreme Court justice nominee who recently expressed his support for such objectors and alternative ways to serve the country. His confirmation hearing will begin in September, and if confirmed, he is expected to add a different opinion on the 13-justice court.
Ahn Se-young from Amnesty International Korea also showed cautious optimism.
"These developments certainly reflect growing public support for conscientious objectors," Ahn said.
While the government has claimed that conscientious objectors do not enjoy public support, Amnesty International Korea and Gallup recently conducted a survey in which more than 70 percent of respondents expressed support for conscientious objectors, according to Ahn.
"But, the appeals court and highest court are still conservative," Ahn said. She also doubts Kim will be influential enough to change the opinion of the entire top court.
Kim Dong-in, another Jehovah's Witness, claimed it's time for the Korean government to take a stance.
"If you look at the world, fewer countries refuse to recognize conscious objectors. It will eventually happen in Korea. It's time for Korea to voluntarily recognize them instead of being coerced to do so under pressure," he said.
But those against conscientious objectors claim if they are recognized, many people will abuse the system. "If Jehovah's Witnesses are found not guilty and are allowed alternative services, many young men will join the religious group only to avoid military duty," a blogger said. "There will be no way to sort out whether they are really believers or just misusing the system."
Now, eyes are on the Constitutional Court, which is expected to rule on an appeal by a conscientious objector later this year. Two previous rulings found it unconstitutional to skip military service because of personal beliefs.
Between 1950 and 2011, more than 16,000 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned in Korea, according to Amnesty International Korea. Every year, hundreds of objectors, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are put on trial for their rejection of military service based on their beliefs. Those convicted are sentenced to imprisonment for up to 18 months.
"There will be so much I won't be able to do if I have a criminal record," An said. "I am not saying that I will avoid my service to the country altogether. I would like to serve my country, but in a different form."
By Jack Ryan
Crisis of Conscience is a book written by a former member of the Governing Body, Raymond Franz
By Guest Nicole
Song In-ho, 25, is waiting for a court ruling on his decision to refuse military service in South Korea, and will be jailed once his claim is rejected. To mark the International Day of Conscientious Objectors on 15 May, he tells Amnesty how his religious beliefs have shaped his life.
Growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, my conscience was shaped by the Bible. We are taught to love even our enemies, and that we should not repay violence with violence. This is why I made a conscientious objection to military service. I was found guilty at my initial trial and, if my appeal is rejected, I will be put behind bars for 18 months. But that is not where my story ends or even begins.
Branded a criminal at birth
In South Korea, those who conscientiously object to military service are stigmatized, almost as if we are branded at birth. It is like people know that a child is predestined to be in jail, so they decide to treat them like criminals-to-be.
My mother is a Jehovah’s Witness, but my father was initially very opposed to my religion. He knew his beloved son would eventually go to jail for refusing military service, and no father wants that.Because of this, I have always tried my hardest to be a good, diligent son. As a result, my father gradually changed his mind. He was the first to support my appeal.
When I was a primary school student, I was asked during class to write about my future aspirations, but I left it blank as I knew it was not achievable. Since I was destined to go to jail anyway, what use is a dream? Yet I could not tell that to my mother because she would be heartbroken.
I remember a traumatic experience when some classmates approached me and asked: “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? My mother said that you would be sent to jail.” It was many years later that I realized this experience was merely the prologue to what was to unfold in my life.
Marked out at school
At the start of each school term, teachers and friends would ask me the same question:“Are you really going to jail? Are you sure you want to be a Jehovah's Witness?” My answer was always the same. It isn't a matter of compromise, because it is about creed, something I would trade my life for. It is a burden I need to carry to the end.
Friends would ask, "Do you even know how much negative gossip there is about you?" Such moments are very bitter to stomach, and those painful memories are far too many.
The discrimination at college was particularly harsh. My friends once mocked me: “Song In-ho, you can't use profanity, you can't fight, you don't pass as a man, and you’re not living up to anything.” There was a lot of ridicule, and it was quite frankly unpleasant. I felt angry. I spent a lot of time thinking: “Is this the right thing to do? Is it unmanly?”
Ever since I was born, I have felt like I’m on a runaway train rushing toward an inevitable station called jail and feeling utterly helpless, unable to escape.
After graduation, I wanted to find a good job but couldn’t. As a conscientious objector, getting a job in a reputable company is nearly impossible because of the discrimination and prejudice. I’m currently helping my parents in their cleaning business.
“As a conscientious objector, getting a job in a reputable company is nearly impossible because of the discrimination and prejudice.” Only asking for alternatives
To prepare for my trial, I went to court on the same day each week and I saw petty thieves, burglars, crooks, and rapists – criminals of all variety, all appealing that their sentences were unreasonable. I felt that if anyone should make an appeal, it ought to be me.
I made up my mind then. If given a chance, no matter what it took, I would do all I can to plead my innocence, even if it meant certain incarceration.
I am willing and ready to dedicate myself to any form of alternative service for my country, no matter how difficult. My conscientious objection to military service is nothing to do with avoiding service.
I am a grateful citizen, and it is my wish that I would be allowed to contribute to the nation in some way other than military service. Whatever that alternative may be, I am willing to take it on, as long as it does not go against my conscience.
That's all we are really asking for.
In South Korea, a majority of conscientious objectors are Jehovah’s Witnesses. The country imprisons more people for their conscientious objection to military service than the rest of the world put together – with at least 600 men mostly aged between 20 and 24 currently in jail.
Living by a Bible-Trained Conscience, Part 3 Korea (1961-1979)
Living by a Bible-Trained Conscience, Part 2 Korea (1946-1960)
Living by a Bible-Trained Conscience, Part 1 Korea (1939-1945)
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