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Some years ago, Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) carried out a mission in South Korea and published a 200-page report entitled “For a South Korea without prisoners of conscience”. After 15 years of advocacy, HRWF welcomes this decision of Seoul and this victory. Since 1953, over 19,300 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to a combined total of over 36,700 years in prison.

HRWF (01.04.2019) – For the first time since 1953, no more Jehovah’s Witness is in prison in South Korea.

On February 28, 2019, the last Jehovah’s Witness imprisoned as conscientious objector was released.

At the beginning of this year, E.H. Jeong and K.S. Cha were the last two Jehovah’s Witnesses that remained in prison after hundreds of their brothers were released last year. They should have respectively been released on 20 August 2019 and 23 January 2020 at the end of their normal 18-month prison term.

1. January 18, 2019
Total of two of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving prison terms for conscientious objection to military service.

2. December 24, 2018
Six Witness conscientious objectors who have served at least one third of their sentence released.

3. November 30, 2018
57 Witness conscientious objectors who have served at least one third of their sentence released.

4. November 1, 2018
Supreme Court acknowledges the right to conscientious objection based on genuinely held religious beliefs as “justifiable grounds” for refusing military service.

5. August 20, 2018
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention renders a decision that the imprisonment of two Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors is arbitrary since it is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

6. June 28, 2018
Constitutional Court rules that Article 5, paragraph 1, of the Military Service Act is unconstitutional, since it fails to provide alternative service.

7. November 3, 2015
CCPR adopts concluding observations, urging South Korea to provide an alternative civilian service program.

8. July 9, 2015
Constitutional Court considers whether certain provisions of the Military Service Act are constitutional.

9. January 14, 2015
CCPR adopts Views finding that South Korea violated Article 18 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 9 (prohibiting arbitrary detention) of the ICCPR by denying 50 Witnesses the right to conscientious objection to military service and imprisoning them.

10. June 30, 2014
Twenty-eight cases pending with Constitutional Court on issue of conscientious objection to military service; 618 men imprisoned.

11. January 28, 2014
President grants a special amnesty and release on parole that shortens by a month or two the prison terms of about 100 Witness men incarcerated for conscientious objection to military service; 513 are imprisoned as of January 31.

12. November 2013
Total of 599 Witnesses detained for conscientious objection to military service.

13. April 2013
Seventy percent of Witness inmates are separated from the general prison population and placed in cells with fellow Witnesses.

14. October 25, 2012
CCPR adopts Views finding that South Korea violated Article 18 (right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion) of the ICCPR by denying 388 Witnesses the right to conscientious objection to military service.

15. August 30, 2011
Constitutional Court decision finds that the laws that penalize conscientious objectors who refuse military service do not violate Korea’s Constitution.

16. March 24, 2011
CCPR adopts Views finding that South Korea violated Article 18 of the ICCPR by denying 100 Witnesses the right to conscientious objection to military service.

17. January 15, 2009
Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military releases a report confirming the South Korean government was responsible for the death of five young Witnesses from 1975 to 1985 who were imprisoned for conscientious objection.

18. December 2008
South Korea overturns plan to introduce alternative service for conscientious objectors.

19. September 18, 2007
South Korea’s Ministry of Defense announces plan to allow conscientious objectors who refuse military service on religious grounds to perform alternative service, promising to revise the military service law and army reserve law.

20. November 3, 2006
CCPR adopts Views finding that South Korea violated Article 18 of the ICCPR by denying two Witnesses the right to conscientious objection to military service.

21. August 26, 2004
Constitutional Court upholds the constitutionality of the law that punishes conscientious objectors.

22. 2001
Office of Military Manpower Administration discontinues forced enrollment, and prison sentences are reduced from a mandatory three-year sentence to a year and a half.

23. December 1, 1985
Kim, Young-geun dies as a result of the inhuman acts of violence by the military during his imprisonment for conscientious objection.

24. August 17, 1981
Kim, Sun-tae dies as a result of the inhuman acts of violence by the military during his imprisonment for conscientious objection to military service.

25. March 28, 1976
Jeong, Sang-bok dies after severe beatings and harsh treatment by the military in response to his conscientious objection to military service.

26. March 19, 1976
Lee, Choon-gil dies after severe beatings by military policemen resulted in a ruptured spleen during his imprisonment for conscientious objection.

27. November 14, 1975
Kim, Jong-sik dies after severe blows and torture by military officers in response to his conscientious objection to military service.

28. 1975
President Park Jeong-hee institutes coercive military conscription, demanding 100 percent participation. Witness men are forcibly taken to military recruitment centers.

29. January 30, 1973
Enforcement of Special Act on Criminal Punishment for Violation of Military Service Act, increasing maximum length of imprisonment for conscientious objectors from three years to ten years. Subjects some to repeated conscription.

30. 1953
Imprisonment of conscientious objectors to military service by South Korea begins.


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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: https://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: https://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/  

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