Court questions constitutionality of punishing conscientious objectors
Published : 2013-01-17 09:59
Updated : 2013-01-17 09:59
A Seoul court has brought the law that punishes conscientious objectors before the Constitutional Court, according to court officials Thursday.
It is the eighth time a local court has challenged the article of the military service law that punishes people who refuse to serve compulsory military service due to their political or religious beliefs.
All able-bodied men have been required to serve about two years in the military or other public sectors since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Under the law, conscientious objectors who refuse to serve without probable cause face up to three years in prison if convicted.
Judge Kang Young-hoon of the Seoul Northern District Court filed the case with the Constitutional Court after a 24-year-old man, who was indicted for violating the law, asked for the petition, claiming it is unconstitutional to punish people for refusing to serve.
The Constitutional Court previously twice ruled in 2004 and 2011 that the article is constitutional, saying that the punishment did not severely violate the constitutional freedom of religion and conscience given that South Korea is technically in state of war with North Korea.
The judge said in the petition that the article violates the freedom of conscience and human rights as stipulated by the Constitution.
The issue has long been debated as some argue that the punishment violates the international human rights law that guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Some others, however, say that introducing an alternative service would jeopardize national security and undermine social equality and cohesion.
An estimated 17,000 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned over the past 60 years, according to a recent study. As of the end of October of last year, 119 conscientious objectors, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are undergoing trials and 743 are in prison. (Yonhap)