Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Korea for over 100 years and have been able to worship freely. The only significant challenge faced by Witnesses in South Korea is the government’s relentless prosecution of conscientious objectors to military service.
South Korea does not recognize the right to conscientious objection and has no legislative provision for alternative civilian service. Thus, young Witness men who are conscientious objectors are typically sentenced to 18 months in prison. From 40 to 50 Witness men are imprisoned each month. After their release from prison, conscientious objectors to military service continue to suffer because they now have a criminal record and appear to have evaded military service. A Witness may suffer restrictions in obtaining work and face various social disadvantages.
Problems also come to men who have completed compulsory military service but who have then embraced the Bible teachings to love their neighbor and not learn war. While they are still subject to reservist call-ups, the men face repeated prosecutions and fines for refusing continued military training.
The UN Human Rights Committee has issued over 500 decisions against South Korea for violating the rights of conscientious objectors and considers their imprisonment to be “arbitrary detention.” It has also stated that South Korea is “under an obligation to avoid similar violations” in the future. A resolution of this issue would mean genuine respect for freedom of conscience and religion in South Korea.