The government detained and imprisoned conscientious objectors to military service. The courts sentenced most conscientious objectors to 18 months in prison. While absolved of any additional military commitment, after serving time in prison conscientious objectors had a criminal record that could affect future employment opportunities, including limitations on holding public office or working as a public servant. Watchtower International, a Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, reported that as of September 30, there were 576 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison for conscientious objection to military service, including 16 pending trial, with an additional 197 persons on trial without detention. The total number of cases was higher than the 583 cases in 2013.
On June 11, the Seoul Central District Court rejected a December 2013complaint filed by 50 individuals who were imprisoned as conscientious objectors and sought compensation. The case was under appeal with the Seoul High Court as of the end of the year.
On June 13, 333 Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted a complaint to the Constitutional Court to decriminalize conscientious objection.
In August a coalition of 15 civil and human rights groups called on President Park Geun-hye to issue pardons to hundreds of prisoners of conscience. One NGO noted that in January the president moved up the release date by one to four months for approximately 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison for conscientious objection.
In June the Constitutional Court ruled that detained and convicted prisoners should be given equal opportunity to take part in religious assemblies, after a prisoner awaiting trial filed a case in April 2012 stating that a detention center in Busan restricted the number of times he could participate in religious assemblies to once a month, while allowing convicted prisoners to attend religious assemblies multiple times a week.
The NGO Watchtower International estimated that since 1950, 18,060 conscientious objectors have served prison time in South Korea.
The Pew Research Center reported in August that there were low levels of government restrictions on religious freedom.