That appears to be the message South Korea is sending conscientious objectors. Prosecutors said they were investigating 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.”
“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 came after a decades-long fight by conscientious objectors, many of them Jehovah’s Witnesses, to push back against the country’s stringent military service law, under which all men between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to perform at least 21 months of service in the South Korean armed forces.
Since then, however, conservative politicians and prosecutors have attempted to get around the court’s ruling, by, for example, requiring conscientious objectors to carry out more stringent — and potentially more dangerous — forms of non-military service.
By focusing on violent video games, prosecutors now appear to be attempting to undermine objectors’ claims to be pacifist or driven by a pacifist religious belief, a move which has been denounced by activists.
Lim Tae-hoon, head of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, told CNN the investigations of conscientious objectors showed prosecutors “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 planned to report prosecutors to the National Human Rights Commission. “It’s their duty to defend human rights,” Lim said. “They are not upholding the duty but acting against it.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jehovah.