One of the things that became quickly obvious when I moved to South Korea, was that they are still technically at war with the North (only a ceasefire was signed at the end of the Korean War). It is a fact that permeates all aspects of life in the country — kids practice bomb drills at school, there are police and military exercises going on in the streets at all times of day, and every single male is expected to perform two years of compulsory military service before the age of 24.
But what happens to the men who, for philosophical or religious reasons, don't want to serve? They are thrown in jail.
According to an article in The Washington Post this week, Amnesty International has issued a report calling for a release of these men. Refusing to serve results in up to three years in jail and heavy fines, which means a huge economic blow and a criminal record for the offender. More than 600 men are imprisoned every year for objecting.
While some argue that jailing these men does not make South Korea any safer, the government claims that because the North poses an imminent threat, there is a need to have a strong army and it is against the law not to serve.
"Most of those jailed for refusing to perform the country’s compulsory military service belong to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination, who object to serving in the military on religious grounds... Others imprisoned are pacifists. Amnesty said that under international law, every person had the right to refuse military service for reasons of conscience or profound personal conviction." (source)
Amnesty is calling for the prisoners to be released immediately, their criminal records to be cleared, and alternative options to be provided for the men who are refusing to serve.