State is responsible for deaths of 5 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were forcibly conscripted into military, Presidential Commission says
With the Ministry of National Defensive having effectively scrapped plans to introduce a system of alternative service for conscientious objectors to military service, the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military has presented its first verdict recognizing the state’s responsibility for individuals who died from violence within the military or committed suicide in the 1970s and 1980s after refusing to carry guns for religious reasons.
In response to an appeal presented by surviving family members of five Jehovah’s Witnesses who died in the military, including the family of Kim Jong-sik, who died in 1975, the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military determined, “It is acknowledged that these individuals died or were led to commit suicide as a result of the state’s anti-human rights violence and its acts of brutality.”
The CSD verdict stated, “These individuals’ deaths occurred as a result of the anti-human rights violence of the military and the state in the process of their attempt to adhere to their religious conscience as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the state is responsible for their deaths.” The verdict also concluded, “The beatings and acts of brutality committed against them by military officials were attempts to compel and coerce them to act against their conscience (religion) and were unconstitutional, anti-human rights acts that infringed severely upon the freedom of conscience (religion) guaranteed in the Constitution.”
In addition to Kim Jong-sik, the victims recognized by the CSD as “casualties of state violence” included Lee Chun-gil (who died in 1976), Jeong Sang-bok (1976), Kim Seon-tae (1981) and Kim Yeong-geun (1985).
“The military mostly treated these individuals as ‘deaths during training,’ but the investigation showed that they were forcibly conscripted. They refused to participate in drills and carry guns, and they then suffered severe beatings and torture,” said a CSD official. “It is acknowledged that they either died after suffering severe injuries through violence or that they took their own lives, unable to bear such violence,” the official added. The verdict opens the way for the surviving family members of the victims to request damages from the state.
SungKongHoe University Professor Han Hong-gu noted, “This decision has the meaning of restores the honor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who suffered the restraints of violence and confinement due to their conscientious objection to military service.” Han added, “The ‘state violence’ that continues for conscientious objectors even now must be done away with as soon as possible through the introduction of a system for alternative service.”
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