By Park Chung-a Korea Times
More than 12,000 people have been imprisoned for refusing mandatory military service over 66 years, according to an association of family members of conscientious objectors.
The organization said it estimates that 12,324 conscientious objectors were sentenced to a total of 25,483 years of imprisonment from 1950 until May 31, 2006.
The number of those who served twice in prison is 289. The research was done from March to April in 2006 through phone and paper interviews with military objectors including Jehovah's Witnesses, who account for the largest portion of them. It is the first time that the number has been calculated, as the government has been reluctant to conduct official research on it.
About 50 percent or 6,328 of the respondents said that they suffered from at least three kinds of harsh treatment while serving in prison. The most common form of torture was standing still with 28.9 percent, followed by push-ups with 25.9 percent, beating with 19.0 percent, fasting with 4.8 percent and sexual harassment with 2.9 percent. Also 3.7 percent of the respondents said that they were imprisoned alone in small cells two meters in height.
According to the special report by the Belgium-based international human rights organization Human Rights Without Frontiers, 53-year-old Sung Ki-yoon said that he fainted due to torture by water while serving a sentence in 1977 for refusing military service. Lee Kae-chol, 52, another military objector, also said that his feet were burned by lighters and wires were pushed under his nails.
In recent years, an increasing number of people are urging the government to introduce civil service as an alternative to service in the military. Those objecting to the current two-year military service claim that the government's decision to punish them under criminal law violates their basic human rights to freedom of thought and religion as guaranteed by law. However, the government has been claiming that it would be unrealistic to offer civil service as a substitute for military service since it would compromise military readiness.