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Conscientious objectors file petition with Constitutional Court


SEOUL, June 18 (Yonhap) -- A group of men criminally punished for refusing to perform compulsory military service for religious reasons filed a petition with the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, demanding that a law recognizing the status of conscientious objectors be enacted.

In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required to serve about two years in the military, and conscientious objectors face criminal charges when they refuse to serve.

A total of 333 members of Jehovah's Witnesses filed the case, claiming that the government has not taken any legislative step despite an advice from the United Nations last year.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee ruled in October that the South Korean government had violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by imprisoning and punishing people for refusing to serve in the military.

The committee emphasized that "the right to conscientious objection to military service is inherent in the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Furthermore, the U.N. body stated that an alternative civilian service may be granted.

"The National Assembly is obliged to enact a law that protects people who refuse to serve in the military claiming the right to conscientious objection, as guaranteed by the Constitution and international regulations," the petitioners said.

The Constitutional Court twice ruled in 2004 and 2011 that the law punishing the conscientious objectors is constitutional.

The court said in its ruling that the punishment did not severely violate the constitutional freedom of religion and conscience given that South Korea is technically in a state of war with North Korea following a cease-fire that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

According to an unofficial survey, some 17,000 conscientious objectors have been criminally punished in South Korea over the past 60 years.

As of the end of October last year, 743 conscientious objectors, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, were serving terms in prison after being convicted, with 119 others undergoing trials.

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