[Writer's Choice] South Korea to Investigate Conscientious Objectors and Violent Video Games Connection

Jay Yim, Jan. 11, 2019, 4:13 p.m.

Do you enjoy playing violent video games? Then you won't be able to avoid military service.

This is the message that South Korea is apparently sending to conscientious objectors (individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.)

Prosecutors said there is an investigation going on to see whether a number of men seeking exemption from military service played "online shooting games" in the past.

"We need to verify their genuine faith. So we need to examine their personal life," an official with the prosecutors office on the southern island of Jeju told CNN. "We check whether they had been attending (religious) service. Checking their history with shooting games is another method."

About a dozen men are currently facing hearings to decided whether they are allowed to claim conscientious objector status in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in November, which ends the South's position as the world's leading jailer of those who refuse to join the military.

"Refusing to enter the military due to a religious faith which forbids bearing arms is considered a justified reason to refuse duty," the court said in its ruling. "Therefore it cannot be criminally punished."

That ruling, after a decades-long fight, came by conscientious objectors, many of them being Jehovah's Witness, to push back against South Korea's strict military service law. Under this law, all men between the ages if 18 and 35 are required to perform at least 21 months of service in the South Korean armed forces.

Since, however, many conservative politicians and prosecuters have made attempts to get around the court's ruling, by, for example, making conscientious objectors carry out more strict -- and possibly more dangerous -- forms of non-military service.

Following an earlier ruling by a constitutional court, which ordered the government to provide alternate ways to serve for objectors, the right-wing Liberty Korea Party brought a bill forward which forces objectors to perform 44 months -- doube the usual length -- of service, including mine sweeping and other dangerous activities.

"This is a form of retaliatory punishment against conscientious objectors that is anachronistic and in violation of human rights," South Korea's Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial at the time.

Conscientious objection continues to remain controversial beyond South Korea, and those who attempt to secure the status in order to avoid military service are often subject to multiple interviews and attempts to purportedly prove they are not sincere.

For example, the Selective Service System, which is the US Agency which oversees the draft, states that an applicant's "reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims."

With focus on violent video games, prosecutors now appear to be attempting to undermine objectors' claims to be pacifist or driven by a pacifist relious belief, which is a move that has been denounced by activists.

Lim Tae Hoon, head of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, said to CNN that the investigations showed prosecuters "still sees objectors as criminals."

"They are imposing a moral line fit for saints and spiritual leaders on them," he said. "It is a violation of privacy. Playing shooting video games and the refusal to bear arms is unrelated. It's a subjective judgment. A game is merely a game."

He added that the center had planned to report prosecutors to the National Human Rights Commision. "It's their duty to defend human rights," Lim said. "They are not upholding the duty but acting against it.

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