Top court upholds prison term for conscientious objector

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- The Supreme Court has finalized the jail term for a man who refused to perform compulsory military service due to his religion, court officials said Wednesday.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that sentenced the 21-year-old man, identified only by his surname Choi, to one and a half years behind bars after he failed to participate in South Korea's mandatory military conscription last September, citing his religious conviction.

"Conscientious objectors should not be exempt from punishment for avoiding conscription," the court said in a ruling statement. "The Constitutional Court has ruled that the law punishing conscientious objectors is constitutional."

In South Korea, all able-bodied men are required to serve about two years in the military, and conscientious objectors could face up to three years in jail, if convicted.

Hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses recently filed a petition with the Constitutional Court, demanding that a law recognizing the status of conscientious objectors be enacted.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled last October that the South Korean government had violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by imprisoning and punishing those who refuse to serve in the military.

"The recommendation from the United Nations is not legally binding and the defendant's appeal cannot be acceptable," the statement said.

An estimated 17,000 conscientious objectors have been imprisoned over the past 60 years, according to a recent study. As of October of last year, 743 conscientious objectors, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are serving terms in prison, with 119 others undergoing trials.

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