Source: Associated Press
By HYUNG-JIN KIM
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.
The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.
All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea’s draft an indisputable necessity.
The ruling was great news for Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.