Prisoners for Peace Day 2003 focuses on the young movement of conscientious objectors in South Korea. Although conscientious objection in young in terms of a movement, the history of imprisonment of conscientious objectors--of Jehovah's Witnesses--goes back a long while. More than 10,000 Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned in the last 50 years for their conscientious objection, mostly to three years imprisonment, and until recently often several times.
Only early in 2001 the concept of "objection to military service" became known to the Korean public. A current affairs magazine reported on a forum on the military service system, including the right to conscientious objection. It especially reported on the history of Jehovah's Witnesses CO. Since the formation of the Korean army, over 10,000 objectors (mostly Jehovah's Witnesses) have spent time behind bars. The public has treeted them as nonexistent.
The history of conscientious objection on the Korean Peninsula dates back to 1939. As Japanese Jehovah's Witnesses who had refused military service began to be arrested on 21 June, the wave of arresting Jehovah's Witnesses began to sweep through Taiwan on 22 June and Korea on 29 June. As a result, 33 Jehovah's Witnesses were indicted in Korea. Most of the Jehovah's Witnesses working in Korea from 1939 to the end of the second world war were imprisoned on account of conscientious objection.
Many people think that the crisis on the Korean peninsula started in the wake of North Korea's nuclear development. However, contrary to what is commonly known, it is right to think that the crisis initiated from the aggressive nuclear and military policies made by the US, and military approach to this by North Korea made the crisis more complicated.
For 50 years, since the Korean War, about 10,000 COs have been imprisoned. Most of those COs were Jehovah's Witnesses. Not until the 21st century did COs who have ideological, political beliefs appear amid serious reflection on militarism and nationalism. The anti-war movement in Korea, which began after 11 September 2001, exerted a great influence on their conviction against war and for peace. I am one of those and the fourth objector for nonreligious reasons.
The Broken Rifle is the newsletter of War Resisters' International, and is published in English, Spanish, French and German. This is issue 59, November 2003. This issue of The Broken Rifle was produced by Andreas Speck and Yongwook Yeong, with help from Jung-min Choi and many others, who provided the information used in this issue.
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