World News – UA – South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses begin prison terms instead of conscription


DAEJEON, SOUTH KOREA (AFP) – Dozens of South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses in suits and ties lined up to enter a prison on Monday (October 26) – to begin training as administrators, rather than the prison sentences they faced as conscientious objectors

The South remains technically at war with the North and maintains a compulsory conscription system to defend itself against Pyongyang’s 1 2 million armies

For decades the only alternative was conviction and prison, and with it life-long stigma, but tens of thousands of conscientious objectors, many of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses, were willing to pay this price for adhering to their convictions

A new program for those who oppose the carrying of weapons on religious or moral grounds went into effect on Monday, requiring them to work as prison administrators for three years, twice the length of conscription normal

The first to benefit were 63 Jehovah’s Witnesses who arrived at Daejeon Prison in South Seoul in a good mood, exchanging happy hugs with family members.

« The sacrifices of countless people » made his alternative service possible, said M Shin Dong-gil, 26 years old

This was a stark contrast to the start of normal military conscription, when young men with freshly shaved heads and teary eyes bid farewell to loved ones at the entrance to training camp

All able-bodied South Korean men are obligated to serve for 18 months before turning 30, in a rite of passage that – though at times irritated – can form lifelong bonds with fellow soldiers

Family members watch loved ones prepare to enter a correctional facility in South Korea on October 26, 2020 PHOTO: AFP

Avoiding duty in a conformist society facing the world’s latest Cold War conflict can lead to employment consequences and lifelong social stigma

But a landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling accepted religious and moral principles as legitimate reasons to oppose military service, paving the way for conscientious objectors to avoid becoming convicted

The 63 who began their duties on Monday will take a three-week course before being sent to prisons across the country, where they will be entitled to the same pay as regular conscripts

M Shin was accompanied to the Daejeon Institution by his brother-in-law Lee Yang-sub, himself a former conscientious objector detainee

« I am really happy that my brother-in-law can participate in this alternative service, » said M Lee, adding that he had « no regrets » about serving time for his faith

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South Korea, conscription, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objector, Jehovah

News from around the world – UA – South Korean Jehovah’s Witnesses begin prison labor terms in place of military conscription



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