Kyeong Hyang, September 3, 2019, “First Exhibition of the Beginning of Conscientious Objection in Korea—the Deungdaesa Incident—Open to the Public”

Yu Seol-hui Journalist (

Refusal to worship the Japanese emperor and serve in the military
At least 66 tortured and punished
Special exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary

Caption: Photos and prisoner ID cards of Deungdaesa members imprisoned at the Seodaemun Prison in 1939

Court documents about the Deungdaesa Incident, explaining the very beginning of conscientious objection in Korea, have been made public for the first time. On September 3, 2019, the exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident opened at the Seodaemun Prison History Hall. The theme of the exhibition is Changing History, Unchanging Conscience. Through some 6,000 pages (microfilm) of court documents maintained by the National History Compilation Committee, the exhibition tells the stories of how imprisoned individuals lived and even died in prison.

The Deungdaesa Incident refers to the historic events leading up to the arrests of Deungdaesa members, now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, by the Imperial Japanese government for refusal to participate in emperor worship and military service. At least 66 individuals in Korea were accused of violating the Maintenance of Public Order Act and were imprisoned for an average of four years and six months.

After being transferred to prison, they were pressured to worship the Japanese emperor. When they refused, they were repeatedly punished and tortured. Among the 66, 6 died, including Choi Jae-hyeong at the age of 22. In History of the Korean Independence Movement, published by the National History Compilation Committee, the Deungdaesa Incident is described as an anti-Japanese movement.

Jang Sun-ok’s daughter Park Hyun-suk, 71, attended the opening ceremony. Jang was arrested in 1939 for refusing to bow toward the palace where the Japanese emperor lived. While in police custody, she was interrogated every day for over a year. She spent five years and five months in prison.

In a videotaped interview, Mrs. Jang said, “Since I did not commit an actual crime, the police officer said that I would be released if I renounced my beliefs.”

Mrs. Park said: “[Mom] was tortured for almost six years in prison, until the day after Japan lost the war. When she was arrested, she was pregnant. She had a miscarriage while in prison.”

The story of Ok Ji-jun, who was arrested in 1939 and detained for four years and six months, is also displayed. The police asked Ok Ji-jun his thoughts about the Sino-Japanese War and Mr. Ok replied: “The Sino-Japanese War has caused people to kill one another. Jehovah God, in whom we believe, doesn’t allow us to kill people. So no matter what happens, we won’t kill anyone.”

SungKongHoe University Professor Han Hong-gu says, “Deungdaesa members never compromised their religious conscience, which only helped Korea with maintaining its independence.”

The Supreme Court decided that conscientious objection does not constitute a crime. Last year, Ok Gyu-bin, the 24-year-old grandson of Ok Ji-jun, was acquitted based on the Supreme Court decision. Ok Gyu-bin, who attended the exhibition, remarked: “I am very proud of my great-grandfather, who did not compromise his conscience. I too will never compromise my faith.”

© Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 2019.

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