For Immediate Release
January 26, 2009
Korean government held responsible for deaths of five conscientious objectors
SEOUL, Korea—On January 15, 2009, the Korean Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military released its decision acknowledging that the Korean government was responsible for the deaths of five young men who were Jehovah’s Witnesses who were forcibly conscripted into the army. The deaths resulted from “the state’s anti-human rights violence” and “its acts of brutality” during the 1970s that continued into the mid-1980s. This decision is significant since it is the first one recognizing the state’s responsibility for deaths resulting from violence within the military.
The “casualties of state violence” include Kim Jong-sik (died in 1975), Lee Chun-gil (died in 1976), Jeong Sang-bok (died in 1976), Kim Sun-tae (died in 1981), and Kim Yeong-geun (died in 1985). It was only because of conscientious objection to military service that these young men were subjected to degrading acts of brutality and violence at the hands of military personnel. Promises made by Korean government officials in 2008 to resolve the issue of conscientious objection by allowing conscientious objectors to engage in some form of alternative civilian service have not materialized.
According to the Commission’s decision, “the beatings and acts of brutality committed against them by military officials were attempts to compel and coerce them to act against their conscience (religion) and were unconstitutional, anti-human rights acts that infringed severely upon the freedom of conscience (religion) guaranteed in the Constitution.”
Jeong, Woon-young, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Korea, commented: “The decision means more than vindication of certain individuals. It proves that there were forced inductions and cruel beatings in the military. It explains why many of the more than 13,000 conscientious objectors who have served prison terms in Korea have had to deal with lifelong health problems and posttraumatic stress. I hope that this decision will be a stepping-stone for improving the present situation, in which some 500 Jehovah’s Witnesses who want to honor their Bible-trained conscience are still being convicted and sent to prison every year, rather than being allowed to perform some form of alternative civilian service.”
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