South Korea: Conscientious objector convicted by Seoul Court in appeal trial

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Activists protesting in support of conscientious objectors in Seoul

The Seoul Central District Court rejected an appeal by conscientious objector Hong Jeong-hun who was sentenced to one year and six months by a district court for his refusal to serve in the military. Hong was not taken into custody and said he would appeal again.

Hong, 29, refuses to perform his mandatory military service based on his pacifist convictions, rather than religion. The court confirmed there should be no reason to differentiate between religious and non-religious convictions when assessing conscientious objection. However, the judge found Hong guilty of “strategically altering” convictions referring to Hong's intention of performing industrial service, a type of reserve military service, more than 3 years ago before he declared conscientious objection. The court also said that Hong's convictions were closer to anti-authoritarianism than pacifism noting his expressions in his statement of refusal to perform military service in December 2016.

Following the ruling, Hong said “Three years have passed since I announced my refusal to perform my military service, and [the court didn’t consider] what I’ve done in the meantime. It’s frustrating that [the ruling doesn’t consider] the spirit of the Constitutional Court’s ruling either.”

Im Jae-seong, an attorney following the case said “While there was a time when Hong considered industrial service, he hasn’t considered reserve service since deciding to reject military service. This ruling is unlawful because it misrepresents the facts. If the spirit of this ruling were applied generally, no one who decided to reject their military service after a specific date could be recognized as a conscientious objector.”

WRI stands in solidarity with Hong Jeong-hun and all conscientious objectors in South Korea, and will continue to follow Hong's case closely.

Sources: Hankyoreh, Seoul court convicts non-religious conscientious objector in appeals trial, 28 September 2019.

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