OCTOBER 19, 2016
On October 18, 2016, the appellate division of Gwangju District Court held that conscientious objectors Hye-min Kim, Lak-hoon Cho, and Hyeong-geun Kim are not guilty of evading military service. These three men, all of whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses, are the first to receive a not-guilty decision on this issue at the appellate court level in South Korea.
Judge Young-sik Kim explained: “The Court believes that they refuse to perform military duty because of their religious faith and conscience. Freedom of religion and conscience are constitutional rights, which are not subject to restriction by punishment.”
If the prosecutor appeals against this ruling, the case will go before the Supreme Court for review. Over 40 cases are already pending before the Supreme Court, involving men who have been declared guilty on this issue. Philip Brumley, General Counsel of Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated: “Even though South Korea’s Supreme Court and Constitutional Court have until now refused to recognize the right to conscientious objection, the appellate court has applied the international standard recognizing the right. This recognition has been confirmed in over 500 rulings by the UN Human Rights Committee.”