“Lim jae-sung is a mild-mannered lawyer in his thirties with a fondness for monogrammed shirts and human-rights cases.
Owing to South Korea’s strict military-service laws, he is also a convicted criminal with a prison record. Mr Lim refused to serve in the army after becoming involved with the anti-war movement sparked by the dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq in 2003.
When a court sentenced him to a year and a half in jail, his parents kept it secret from their friends to avoid bringing shame on the family. He told his grandparents that he was going to spend some time in China. “It would have been too difficult to explain,” he says.
But many South Koreans question military service.
All men (women are exempt) are required to enlist. They must serve between 21 and 24 months before they turn 29, although the current government has moved to shorten the duration of service.
Conscripts are forced to live in barracks far from home, with unpredictable leave and little contact with the outside world.
Earlier this year the use of mobile phones was legalised – but only after 6pm. Hazing and other abuses are rife.
“I worried that the violent atmosphere would turn me into a violent person, someone who is happy to beat other people,” says Lee Yong-suk, a conscientious objector who now runs a pacifist ngo.” (The Economist, 2019, p.30).
The Economist. (2019) Military Service in South Korea: Blessed are the Peacemakers. The Economist. 09 February 2019, pp.30.