For the first time in South Korean history, government prosecutors requested an appeals court to issue not-guilty verdicts in the cases of five of our brothers who refused military service. In turn, the court acquitted the brothers and closed their cases completely. These rulings forcefully quash, or overturn, lower-court rulings that had charged our brothers with evading military service.
The not-guilty verdicts, announced on December 14, 2018, set a clear precedent to acquit over 900 brothers with similar cases pending in the Korean court system. Brothers who are acquitted will await the implementation of an alternative service arrangement that can be undertaken instead of military duty.
The appeals court based its verdicts on two historic decisions by Korea’s Constitutional and Supreme Courts in 2018. Those rulings terminated the 65-year policy that imposed a virtually automatic prison sentence on conscientious objectors, regardless of the sincerity of their religious stand.
The two high-court decisions, which recognize conscientious objection as a fundamental right based on freedom of conscience, earned praise from human rights organizations. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea stated: “The Supreme Court full-bench decision brought an end to the painful history of criminally punishing conscientious objectors, which began in the 1950s, affecting almost 20,000 conscientious objectors . . . We express our deepest respect for the sacrifices conscientious objectors and their families have had to endure.”
Now, conscientious objectors are asked to prove that their refusal to perform military service is based on “deep, firm and genuine” beliefs. Judges have been instructed to look for evidence of the objector’s sincerity. In the words of the Supreme Court, “All aspects of his life . . . should be influenced by the deeply held conviction.” As they answer the judges’ probing questions, our brothers thus have a fine opportunity to testify about their personal decision to abstain from war and military service.—1 Peter 3:15.
For more than six decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea endured prison terms for their stand of conscience, furnishing powerful evidence that our peaceable position of Christian neutrality stems from a wholehearted desire to obey the second greatest commandment, to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.’—Matthew 22:39.