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Seoul Court Acquits Conscientious Draft Resisters

Posted May. 21, 2004 22:26,   


For the first time in history, the court has acquitted conscientious draft resisters who have been dodging the draft for religious reasons.

Judge Lee Cheong-ryeol of the Seoul South Local Court ruled that the two Jehovah’s witnesses, manual laborers both identified only by their last names Chung (23 years old) and Oh (22 years old), were not guilty.

However, the court has sentenced another Jehovah’s Witness, a 23-year-old unemployed man identified as Cho, to a maximum prison term of three years, citing the insufficiency of his case for conscientious resistance.

“The court concludes that the draft resistance by the accused is their conscientious decision,” the judge said, “Their resistance is legally valid under the Constitution, which protects freedom of conscience.”

“Only resistance to the draft without valid reasons is punishable under the current law on the draft,” said the court.

The court presented criteria for conscientious resistance to the draft as follows: 1) the process that shows the resistance is based on a conscientious decision; 2) extenuating reasons for the resistance; and 3) social activities that are consistent with his/her faith and conscience.

As for Chung, he has been a Jehovah’s Witness since birth; he has spent 70 hours a month doing missionary work since high school and has made it clear on many occasions with his parishes that he would resist the draft as the Bible commands him to do so.

“Freedom of conscience is the freedom that is not restrained by the outside over the formation of the conscience, its determination, as well as its practices,” the court said, “To secure such freedom, the minority’s conscience should not be overlooked by the majority’s. The majority’s conscience should not be forced upon others.”

In related news, ruling is still pending at the Constitutional Court for the petition filed by a conscientious draft resister on January of 2002 over the constitutionality of the Law on Military Duties which he claims denies the freedom of conscience because it does not offer a non-military service alternative.

Jin-Kyun Kil leon@donga.com