Editorial

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In this year's final CO Update, we're glad to share with you a number of good news from different countries.

Our first story is from South Korea. For the first time, an appeal court has overturned the guilty verdicts of two young men refusing to serve in the army. The decision was a clear message to the Korean government that it needs to stop punishing conscientious objectors. There are now hundreds of young men serving in prison in South Korea -more than the rest of the world put together- for their conscientious objection to military service. The Korean Government should take necessary steps to end this human rights crisis as soon as possible. We will keep following developments from South Korea closely in 2017 as well, and support the rights of conscientious objectors in the country.

Another good news on a legal case came from Europe. In September, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the conscientious objector Leonidas Papavasilakis, whose conscientious objection was not recognised by the Greek Government. The Court convicted Greece of violating Papavasilakis' right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The decision has been another reminder for the Greek Government that it needs to make legislative reforms on conscientious objection urgently – a point also raised by EBCO in its 2016 report on conscientious objection in Europe.

Other good updates came from Israel and Ukraine. Tair Kaminer, 19 year-old conscientious objector from Israel, was finally released after spending over 150 days in military prison. Tair's refusal was to protest against “the injustices that the Palestinian people face under occupation." In Ukraine, Roslan Kotsaba, a journalist who was earlier charged with high treason for refusing military draft, was also freed after being held in detention for more than 15 months.

Alongside these stories, we have also had a good, but “not good enough”, update from Belarus. A new law on alternative service was passed and came into effect. Although that was a positive step, the punitive and very restrictive framework of the law made alternative civilian service existing only formally, but not a viable option in practice for many young men in the country. We will keep covering updates from Belarus with the hope that an effective legislative reform improving the existing law will soon be made.

We wish this year's final CO Update only had good news. However, we have also had updates informing us on the blatant violations of the right to conscientious objection in some other countries. In Turkmenistan, six conscientious objectors have been reported to be convicted and sentenced in 2016. In Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan), Artur Avanesyan, a twenty-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses, keeps serving a 30-month sentence for refusing to perform military service. Besides, we have also had a “backlash” update from Georgia, where the new Minister of Defence has announced that the compulsory military service (at the Ministry of Defence) will soon be restored. It was previously abolished by the former minister back in June this year.

As rights violations continue, so does the resistance! In this edition, you'll also read stories of resistance and solidarity from different countries. In the USA, a former Reserve Chaplain Captain at the Army, has resigned due to his refusal to support U.S. armed drone policy, which he defines as a “policy of unaccountable killing” in his letter to President Obama.

Many activists from various countries organised street actions and vigils on this year's Prisoners for Peace Day in support of two conscientious objectors from Israel, Tamar Alon and Tamar Ze'evi. Both are now serving in prison for their refusal to take part in the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In Russia, activists have developed an online resource which informs young men on the alternative civilian service, and encourages them to apply for it rather than registering for the military service. In Colombia, a TV show which had promoted compulsory military service was protested by a satire video. In Venezuela, a number of NGOs filed an appeal to the country's Supreme Court in order to challenge the law that establishes an obligation for Venezuelan citizens to enroll on the Military Register.

In this edition, you will also find updates from Thailand, where a military junta is in power since the 2014 coup. Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a 20 year-old conscientious objector from Thailand, answers the questions of WRI staff Hannah Brock, who has recently visited Thailand to meet conscientious objectors and nonviolent activists there.

Before I finish, let me also remind you an ongoing action to support Tair Alon and Tair Ze'evi, who are now behind bars for their refusal to military service. Send your protest emails here to the Israeli authorities for their immediate release. Despite ongoing rights violations and armed conflicts in many countries today, our movements of peace and conscientious objection are also growing, and we will keep covering stories of resistance and solidarity from around the world in 2017.

Semih Sapmaz

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