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Judges and legal professionals hoping that recent lower court acquittals for objection are reflected in Supreme and Constitutional courts.... South-Korea !

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Judges and legal professionals hoping that recent lower court acquittals for objection are reflected in Supreme and Constitutional courts.JPG

Judges and legal professionals hoping that recent lower court acquittals for objection are reflected in Supreme and Constitutional courts  -

Posted on : July  10.  2017

“My grandfather also went to prison for refusing military conscription during the Japanese occupation. They always talk about how the human rights situation is supposed to be better now, nearly 80 years later, but conscientious objectors are still having to go to jail. If only because of what happened with my grandfather, I‘m going to continue proclaiming our innocence.”

In 1939,  Ok  Gyu-bin’s grandfather  Ok Ji-jun and great-uncle  Ok Rye-jun were jailed along with their wives while protesting the draft and war being waged by imperialist Japan.  For Jehovah‘s Witnesses committed to honoring the Bible’s instruction to “love thy neighbor and thy enemy,” war was something they could not be part of in any way. The four were among 38 Korean Jehovah‘s Witnesses arrested for opposing the war. In the history books, the “Witness incident” is listed as one example of Korean resistance against Japan.

South Korea’s human rights situation may have improved enough since liberation and democratization for it to serve as chair country for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). But the situation for Ok Gyu-bin, 22, isn‘t much different from what his grandfather faced. He is currently on trial at Busan District Court for refusing to report for his induction day on Aug. 8 of last year. Ok is charged with violating Article 88-1 of the Military Service Act, which states that “Any person who . . . fails to enlist in the military or to comply with the call . . . without justifiable grounds, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than three years.”

“I’m not refusing military service because I want to take it easy,” Ok told the Hankyoreh on July 9. “People like my grandfather and me have spoken out to uphold our conscience no matter the country,  people,  system, political situation,  or social atmosphere.”

Ok  resolutely maintained that he had definite “justifiable grounds” as prescribed by the Act‘s terms.

Around the same time that Ok’s grandfather was in prison, Jehovah‘s Witnesses in Germany - then caught up in its own wave of militarism - were also persecuted for conscientious refusal to serve. After the war ended, however, Germany instituted alternative means of service, before ultimately adopting a volunteer system.

In South Korea, conscientious objectors still face prison time. A UNHRC report found South Korea to account for 669 out of 723 cases of individuals being jailed for conscientious objection as of 2013,  or 92.5%.

“Since it’s the practice to sentence conscientious objectors to one year and six months in prison, the police investigations and trials have traditionally been formalities. These days, though, there are more and more cases of lower courts ruling to acquit, and we’re looking forward to [similar rulings from] the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court,” Ok said.

Despite the lower court acquittals, the Supreme Court has consistently delivered guilty verdicts against conscientious objectors. On June 15, it upheld an original court ruling sentencing one objector to eighteen months in prison. Yet the lower court acquittals have continued ever since, including rulings by Cheongju District Court on June 22 and Seoul Nambu District Court on June 27.

The areas where the Supreme Court rulings to convict and the lower court rulings to acquit diverge concern whether conscientious objection should be viewed as “justifiable grounds” and whether it is recognized according to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which South Korea is a signatory.

“In the past, judges kept waiting for an unconstitutionality ruling from the Constitutional Court. But with growing support for the idea that conscientious objection represents ‘justifiable grounds’ and legal interpretation being left to the authority of judicial officers, a more active environment has taken shape,” explained a judge who ruled to acquit one conscientious objector.

“As the lower court acquittals add up, the Supreme Court precedent could change,” the judge predicted.

Ok explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses “have long testified  to their conscience with their actions, like my grandfather did.”

“Our Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, and I am convinced that I am not guilty according to the Constitution,” he said.

Four months after arguments in Ok‘s  trial concluded in March,  no sentencing date has been set.

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