Supreme Court acquits man who refused enlistment for personal convictions

Posted on : 2021-06-25 17:32 KST Modified on : 2021-06-25 17:33 KST
Identifying himself as queer, the man said that he had negative feelings regarding an abusive group culture that forces masculinity on people
Si-woo, the first non-Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to mandatory service who was acquitted by a South Korean court, is pictured.
Si-woo, the first non-Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector to mandatory service who was acquitted by a South Korean court, is pictured.

A conscientious objector who refused to perform mandatory military service due to personal convictions other than membership in the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith was acquitted by a South Korean court for the first time in history.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court’s first division under Justice Kim Seon-soo upheld a ruling acquitting the 34-year-old defendant — known by his working name Si-woo — on charges of violating the Military Service Act.

“The defendant’s convictions and faith are deeply established and have formed a clear identity. He appears to have refused military service based on his genuine conscience,” the court concluded.

Si-woo was first referred for trial after refusing enlistment in active service in 2017. Identifying himself as queer, he said that he had negative feelings regarding an abusive group culture that forces masculinity on people.

He also said that he had developed a conscientious position advocating non-violence and pacifism over the course of his activities with a Christian group demonstrating over the 2009 Yongsan tragedy and opposing the construction of a naval base in Jeju’s Gangjeong Village.

In his first trial, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with the court ruling that “refusal of induction based on religious conscious or political benefits does not constitute ‘legitimate grounds’ as stipulated in the Military Service Act.”

In June 2018, the Constitutional Court concluded that the Military Service Act’s lack of provisions for alternative military service was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of consciousness. The Supreme Court similarly set a new precedent in granting acquittals in cases involving consciousness objection to military service for religious reasons.

The court in Si-woo’s appellate trial ruled to acquit, concluding that the defendant had “embraced non-violence and anti-war beliefs as an extension of his Christian faith, which emphasizes love and peace, and feminism, with its respect for minorities, and he appears to have refused his military service obligation accordingly.”

The court also said his actions “could not be seen as compromising or strategic.”

The Supreme Court came to the same conclusion in dismissing the prosecutors’ appeal.

By Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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