Photo: Daejeon Correctional Institution. Credit: Website of the Ministry of Justice.
Until 2018, South Korea imprisoned hundreds of conscientious objectors - nearly all of them Jehovah’s Witnesses 여호와의 증인 - each year for refusing to be drafted, until the Constitutional Court 헌법재판소 ruled that conscientious objectors must be given an alternative opportunity to serve. The November 21 Hankyoreh 한겨레 cover story by journalist Ha Eo-yeong 하어영 told the story of the first class of the alternative service, made up of 63 men.
The alternative service unit completed three weeks of their “basic training” at Daejeon Correctional Institution 대전교도소, where they learned to be assistants to correctional officers. After their training, the unit members were assigned to one of the 34 prisons and detention centers across the country. Rather than weapons training, the unit learned how to wash prison laundry and maintain the grounds. The unit members are older than typical conscripts; most of them are late 20s, and five are married, as they delayed their military service in hopes that the alternative service would be offered. The Ministry of Justice 법무부 expects to offer alternative service to approximately 1,600 men in the next three years.