A judge in South Korea has unexpectedly found three conscientious objectors not guilty of draft evasion. The three CO's – all Jehovah's Witnesses – were acquitted by Senior Judge Choi, Chang-seok in Gwangju District Court. There are only two other reported cases – in 2004 and 2007 - of a judge finding conscientious objectors in South Korea not guilty of draft evasion, and in both cases the ruling was appealed by the prosecution and ultimately over turned. The prosecution in this case is appealing against the decision.
The judge said “It is necessary to interpret freedom of conscience under the Constitution and the duty of national defense in a harmonious manner. When the fundamental rights collide with other constitutional interests such as a citizen’s duty, it is appropriate to interpret the law in a way that both interests can be realized to the extent possible.”
South Korea has no legal recognition of conscientious objection, and those who refuse to take part in compulsory military service are routinely put in prison for 18 months.
JW.org: “South Korea Judge Acquits Conscientious Objectors of Refusing Military Service” www.jw.org/en/news/legal/by-region/south-korea/conscientious-objectors-acquitted-20150518/, 18 May 2015
CNN: “Little mercy for conscientious objectors in South Korea's military”, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/20/asia/korean-military-conscientious-objectors/, 21 May 2015
Korea Bizwire: “Korean Court Acquit Conscientious Objector, Spurring Introduction of Alternative Services”, http://koreabizwire.com/korean-court-acquit-conscientious-objector-spurring-introduction-of-alternative-services/35053, 14 May 2015