Supreme Court’s Controversial Prison Sentence for Conscientious Objector
While the Constitutional Court is deliberating on whether a provision of the Military Service Act that stipulates punishment of conscientious objectors (COs) is constitutional or not, the Supreme Court on August 27 upheld a sentence of one year and six months in prison for Mr. Ahn accused of violating the Military Service Act.
In March 2014, Mr. Ahn, a Jehovah's Witness, was indicted for refusing to enlist in the military by reason of religious beliefs.
He was found guilty in all three trials. The Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Ahn, saying that the Constitutional Court ruled in 2011 that a provision of the Military Service that stipulates punishment for COs was constitutional.
However, a growing number of lower courts have recently ruled in favor of COs. The Suwon District Court on August 13 found two Cos not guilty, saying that “their conscientious objection to military service is construed as an exercise of the right to the freedom of conscience, protected by the Constitution, and their objection to military service neither undermines the function of the nation nor violates others’ rights and interests.”
On August 12, the Gwangju District Court also followed suit. The Constitutional Court held a public hearing on July 9 and is currently revisiting the case.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling came amid the Constitutional Court mulling the case. Hence it could affect the Constitutional Court’s final decision,” said MINBYUN–Lawyers for a Democratic Society, an NGO comprised of over 900 lawyers.