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(2nd LD) Constitutional Court orders legislation on alternative service for conscientious objectors

2018/06/28 18:15

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(ATTN: RECASTS headline; CORRECTS to say it's the court's fourth ruling on the issue instead of third)

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) -- The Constitutional Court on Thursday ordered the revision of the conscription law to allow for alternative service for conscientious objectors by the end of next year, while upholding the criminalization of those who refuse to serve in the military, largely for religious reasons.

The nine-member panel ruled a clause in the Military Service Act, which stipulates that such objectors face up to three years in prison, to be constitutional. The court did so in all its three previous rulings, most recently in 2011.

The decision was made by four votes to four, with one refusing to judge for procedural reasons. It required at least six votes to overturn the past rulings.

"The punishment clause is meant to strike a balance between securing military service resources and the burden of military service. Its legislative purpose is just, and enforcing the military service obligation with criminal punishment is a suitable means to achieve the legislative purpose," the court said.

The court, however, ruled that another clause in the same law that does not recognize alternative service for conscription is unconformable to the highest law. It ordered the National Assembly to amend the law by the end of 2019. Otherwise, the clause will be scrapped on Jan. 1, 2020.

The decision was made by six to three.

The punishment of objectors without the provision of alternative options is an infringement of freedom of conscience and the principle banning excessive punishment, the court said.

All able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve for around two years in the military.

Since the 1950s, about 19,000 conscientious objectors have been arrested and served time, mostly 18 months in jail.

In all three previous cases in 2004 and 2011, the court voted 7-2 in favor of the law, judging that military obligation overrides freedom of conscience as the two Koreas are technically at war since the Korean War ended in a truce.

This image shows a close shot of protesters calling for acknowledgment of conscientious objectors to military service during a performance rally held in Seoul on May 12, 2018. (Yonhap)  This image shows a close shot of protesters calling for acknowledgment of conscientious objectors to military service during a performance rally held in Seoul on May 12, 2018. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr

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