News / Asia

S. Korean Conscientious Objectors Seek Alternative to Military Service

S. Korea's Conscientious Objectors Face Dilemmai
X
February 09, 2014 1:07 AM
South Korea requires all able-bodied male citizens to serve about two years in their nation’s armed forces. Of those who object to military duty on moral grounds, most end up in prison. From Seoul, Jason Strother tells us more.
VIDEO: Hundreds of able-bodied South Korean men are imprisoned each year for refusing compulsory military service
Jason StrotherMalte Kollenberg
Kim Ji-kwan does not return to this jail on the outskirts of Seoul very often. Having spent just more than a year locked in one of its cells, the 33 year old's crime is one that many are afraid to commit: refusing to serve in South Korea’s military.

“I became a conscientious objector because I learned from the Bible that you have to love your neighbor and your enemy," he says. "We should love life.”

Kim’s father and two brothers also spent time in jail. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they say learning to use weapons or fight goes against their religious convictions.

Kim says he would have been open to other types of service.  

“If there were an alternative service, one that does not go against my beliefs, then I would have done that," he says. "A service that does not require actual military training.”

According to government figures, each year hundreds of able-bodied South Korean men are sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for refusing compulsory military service.

While not all of them refuse a stint in the armed forces on strictly moral grounds, most end up behind bars.

According to London-based War Resisters' International (WRI), an advocacy group that keeps track of conscientious objectors worldwide, South Korea's statistics stand out.

“According to the data ... the largest number of imprisoned conscientious objectors — not necessarily the number of objectors themselves, but imprisoned objectors — is currently in South Korea," said WRI’s Sergeiy Sandler via Skype. "The way conscientious objectors are treated are, of course, substandard in all human rights senses.”

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense says there are no plans to change its conscription policy. The Ministry declined an interview request but has pointed to security concerns with North Korea as justification for maintaining the status quo.

Lee Jae-seong, a law professor at Konkuk University in Seoul, says public opinion no longer supports the government’s policies.

“The South Korean government has always stressed security and has said that an alternative to military service would harm our safety," he said. "But the public no longer believes that. Only the government is holding on to that idea."

Lee points out that a recent Gallup poll indicates 68 percent of respondents say they are in favor of creating such an alternative service so that conscientious objectors will not have to go to jail.

Conscientious objector Kim Ji-kwan says he and the other men in his family did the right thing by going to prison for their beliefs. But if he one day has a son, he says, he would not expect him to carry on the tradition.

Refusing to serve is a personal decision based on one’s own faith, he says.

You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Kim from: South Korea
February 11, 2014 6:56 AM
Consientious objectors are not violating korean laws, but koreans laws are violating their rights of conscience and religion guarranteed by the Constitution. Which is higher value? The Constitution or laws? The anwer is obvious.

by: Robin Mprgan from: USA
February 10, 2014 12:01 AM
Anybody wanting to knpe truth about JW's should do their own research. The comment about them helping only themselves is oncorrect and mostly purported by active opposers of pur religion. So nursedeb is flat wrong.

by: Parker from: Mexico
February 09, 2014 7:30 PM
Cool Look at the last scene. He has the new English Bible!

by: nursedebb from: Colorado
February 09, 2014 4:41 PM
Ridiculous that the JW's rely on politicians and governments to protect their right to worship as they desire, but do nothing at all to assist others despite calling themselves "Christian" In any natural disaster they JW's only help their own, they do not help or assist anyone that is not a Jehovah's Witness. Absolutely ridiculous that they cry and whine about being jailed for disobeying the law.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More