SOUTH KOREA: Conscientious objector Sangwoo Kang imprisoned for 18 months


War Resisters' International received information that South Korean gay conscientious objector Sangwoo Kang, 28, has been imprisoned for 18 months for his refusal to perform military service.

Sangwoo Kang's conscientious objection to military service is linked to his sexual orientation. In 2009, he participated in an international seminar and training on conscientious objection in Seoul, organised by War Resisters' International, World Without War, and Korea Solidarity for Conscientious Objection as a translator.

In 2010, he produced a movie on his experience and perspective as conscientious objector, "A Silk Letter": Beside the Han River in Seoul, at night, Sungwoon burns his draft notice. Like all Korean men his age, he is supposed to do 27 months of military service. Refusing it will get him sent to jail. He returns to the room he shares with his lover, a boy who dropped out of high school. They argue and make up, as always. Sungwoon’s mind starts to race as he contemplates his coming trouble: confused thoughts build up and explode. He tries to write a ’"silk letter" explaining himself, like the Catholic martyr Alexitus Hwang in 19th-century Korea.

Although South Korea has been reminded repeatedly by the United Nations Human Rights Committee that it should recognise the right to conscientious objection - both in Concluding Observations to state party reports, and in its jurisprudence on case of conscientious objectors from South Korea - it has so far not done so. A project by the former government to introduce the right to conscientious objection has been dropped by the present government.

In November 2010, 965 conscientious objectors were serving prison sentences, usually of 18 months. At present, in one of the CO cases an appeal to the Constitutional Court is pending. Nevertheless, the courts continue to send conscientious objectors to prison.

War Resisters' International calls for letters of support to conscientious objector Sangwoo Kang:
902 Sangwoo Kang
Dongsuwon P.O Box 17
Suwon Si Paldal-gu
Republic of Korea

War Resisters' International calls for letters of protest to President Lee Myung-bak.
A protest email can be sent at

War Resisters' International calls for the immediate release of conscientious objector Sangwoo Kang and all other imprisoned conscientious objectors.

Andreas Speck
War Resisters' International