South Korean conscientious objectors to military service taken to court over violent video games

Two South Korean conscientious objectors who claimed they could never hold a gun were taken to court by the government, who pointed out that both men enjoyed playing violent first-person shooter games on their computers. 

Prosecutors representing the South Korean government said the computer records of the two men, identified in court only by their family names, Kim and Kwon, showed they had accessed games such as “Sudden Attack”, in which players are required to kill on-screen enemies with guns and other weapons. 

During the hearing, the men had claimed that they refused to accept mandatory conscription on the grounds that holding a weapon and killing another person was against their religious convictions. 

In its case against the two men, aged 23 and 24, the prosecution argued that their record of online wargaming meant they could not be considered “true” conscientious objectors, The Korea Times reported. 

The Seoul Southern District Court on Saturday disagreed, however, ruling that a person can enjoy a violent computer game and still be a conscientious objector.

The court added that Kim and Kwan, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, could therefore legitimately refuse to serve in the military on the grounds of their religious beliefs. 

Men are excused from military service on the grounds of religious beliefCredit:
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

“The accused were in the process of growth [when they played the games] and, considering that the games are played in a virtual world and not in reality, playing the games does not necessarily mean they had a propensity for violence or that their religious convictions were weak”, the court said. 

Under South Korean law, all able-bodied men must serve around two years in the armed forces, although the Supreme Court ruled in November of last year that forcing an individual who claimed that carrying a weapon was against their religious beliefs to join the military was a contravention of the constitution. 

Since the Korean War of 1950-53, around 19,000 conscientious objectors have been arrested and served prison sentences of up to 18 months for their beliefs. As a result of the court’s ruling, all those still serving time were released. 

The government has found alternative compulsory employment for those who refuse to serve in the forces, with many working in prisons for 36 months, significantly longer than the amount of time they would be required to be in the military.

Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, has said that he is aiming to abolish conscription and move to a professional army of volunteers. 

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