Kang We-suck, 25, a conscientious draft dodger was found guilty of refusing to enlist.
/ Korea Times file
By Park Si-soo
An anti-conscription activist was found guilty of refusing to report for enlistment by a court Thursday.
Judge Kwon Ki-moon of the Seoul Central District Court sentenced Kang We-suck to 18 months in prison for violating the Conscription Law. Kang was taken to prison immediately after the ruling with his mother watching in the courtroom.
In South Korea, all able-bodied men aged over 19 must serve in the military for about two years.
The 25-year-old was arrested in 2008 for staging a naked protest at a military parade to celebrate Armed Forces Day.
“I have reached the conclusion that Kang doesn’t want to serve in the military at all after taking into account that he initially delayed his enlistment for the ostensible purpose of preparing for the bar exam but soon recanted the claim to launch a campaign meant to disband the country’s armed forces,” the judge said. “He should be punished harshly.”
The court put the duty of military service ahead of the constitutional freedom of conscience, turning down Kang’s allegation that coerced enlistment undermines the dignity of the Korean people.
“With the military confrontation between the two Koreas in place, the freedom of conscience can be restricted for the sake of national security,” the judge said.
In an interview prior to the verdict, Kang said he would not appeal. “The result has already been made. I will never be embarrassed,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, a lawyer also received an 18 month sentence in a separate trial, Thursday, on the same charge.
The lawyer, surnamed Baek is a Jehovah’s Witness, whose followers are globally known for refusing to fulfill military duties and not permitting blood transfusions in line with their religious beliefs.
“His religious belief cannot be grounds for the accused to be exempt from military duty,” said Judge Lim Sung-chul at the same court. Baek will remain free until his appeal is heard by a higher court, the judge said.
At present, 843 Jehovah’s Witnesses are in jail on this charge. In April, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged the government to stop punishing conscientious objectors like Baek, saying it infringes on the freedom of conscience and religion.
The Constitutional Court ruled twice in favor of a law punishing them with a third petition against the law pending.
In 2007, the government considered introducing non-combat community service as an alternative military duty for Jehovah’s Witnesses. But the plan was abolished after facing a public backlash.
`병역거부' 여호와의 증인 변호사 징역형
법정구속은 안해…변호사 "항소하겠다"
서울중앙지법 형사5단독 임성철 판사는 2일 종교적 신념에 반한다며 입영을 거부한 혐의로 기소된 백종건 변호사에게 징역 1년6월을 선고했다.
재판부는 "병역 의무를 이행하지 않아 국가의 안전이 보장되지 않으면 국민의 인권과 안위를 보장할 수 없다"며 "백 변호사가 주장하는 양심의 가치가 헌법적 법익보다 우위에 있는 것으로 볼 수 없고 이를 일부 제한하더라도 부당하지 않다"고 밝혔다.
재판부는 도주 우려가 없다고 판단해 백 변호사를 법정구속 하지는 않았으며 병역법에 대한 위헌 법률심판제청 신청을 받아들이지 않았다.
백 변호사는 재판이 끝나고 "전국 6개 법원에서 병역법에 대해 위헌제청을 해서 조만간 위헌 여부에 대한 헌법재판소의 판단이 내려질 것으로 본다"며 "오늘 판결에 대해서는 항소할 계획이며 헌법재판소에 위헌심사형 헌법소원을 제기하겠다"고 밝혔다.
`여호와의 증인' 신도인 백 변호사는 올해 2월 입영통지서를 받고도 정당한 사유 없이 응하지 않은 혐의로 불구속 기소됐으며 그는 현역입영 또는 소집통지서를 받고 정당한 사유 없이 불응하면 3년 이하 징역형에 처하도록 한 병역법 88조 등에 대해 `양심과 종교의 자유를 침해한다'며 위헌법률심판 제청을 신청했다. (연합)