SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will for the first time allow conscientious objectors to do some form of community service instead of the two years of military service that all men have to do.
South Korea, which is still technically at war with rival North Korea, is one of the few countries that has mandatory conscription for all men.
South Korea’s military service system has been in the international spotlight this week after South Korean soccer fans called for their star player, Son Heung-min, to get an exemption from his service.
The Ministry of Defence has said Son must do his military service.
But in the first hint of reform of the strict system, the ministry said on Thursday that for the first time, conscientious objectors would soon be allowed to do alternative service.
It did not say what type of service people would be allowed to do, or say how people will be judged as eligible for alternative service.
But it said it would ensure that people could not take advantage of the reform change, which comes amid renewed hopes peace on the divided peninsula.
“The ministry has been reviewing alternatives that cannot be abused by men wishing to avoid serving in the military,” the ministry said in a statement.
Anyone refusing military service without a good reason can be jailed for up to three years, which up until now, conscientious objectors have had to face.
But South Korea’s Constitutional Court ruled earlier on Thursday that there was a need for an alternative for men who refuse to serve, while also ruling that objecting to serve was a clear violation of the constitution.
Football fans are not the only ones hoping to get someone off military service.
For years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed legal appeals on the grounds that compulsory military service breaches their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Followers of the Christian denomination that claims about 8 million members worldwide, are well known as conscientious objectors.
Reporting by Haejin Choi; Editing by Robert Birsel