Chosun Ilbo, September 2, 2019, “Looking Back 80 Years, the First Conscientious Objection—By Jehovah’s Witnesses”

Caption: Deungdaesa Incident interrogation records of suspect Ok Ji-jun

An exhibition will be held to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident, considered to be the starting point of conscientious objection to military service in Korea.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a special exhibition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Deungdaesa Incident will be held at Seodaemun Prison History Museum on September 4 to 29. The 6,000 pages of trial records housed by the National Institute of Korean History have been compiled and are being made public for the first time.

At the exhibition, you will be able to learn more about the Deungdaesa Incident, which began in 1939. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were then called Deungdaesawon (members of the Lighthouse Society), were arrested and imprisoned for their refusal to participate in emperor worship and military service during the Japanese occupation. It was previously reported that 38 individuals were arrested in 1939.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say that “a study [of the documents] revealed at least 66 individuals were charged between 1939 and 1941 with violating the Maintenance of Public Order Act and were imprisoned for more than four years on average, six of them dying in prison (one in a Japanese prison).” Records presented will show that Jang Sun-ok (1918-2012), who was arrested and imprisoned for five years and five months, was tortured at Seodaemun Prison because she persistently refused goongseongyobae, the act of bowing down to the palace of the Japanese emperor.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the story of the Ok Gye-seong family. Ok’s first two sons and their wives were imprisoned for refusing emperor worship and military service; his third son died in a Japanese prison. Even after the liberation of Korea, their descendants continued to be imprisoned for the same reason—refusing military service. The total collective prison term of the Ok family is 28 years.

Hong Dae-il, a spokesman for the South Korea branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses, says, “Ok Gyu-bin, a great-grandson of Ok Gye-seong, refused military service in 2017 [Note: started in 2016] and has been waiting for alternative service since the Supreme Court ruling in November 2018. The Ok family was there when arrests due to conscientious objection to military service began in the Korean peninsula, and it seems that they will still be there when the first case of alternative service takes place in the Korean peninsula.”

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, following independence from Japan, a total of 19,350 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned in Korea due to their objection to military service. Their total sentence amounted to 36,824 years. Since the Supreme Court’s not guilty decision on conscientious objection to military service on November 1 of last year, 24 of the 937 [Witnesses tried as] conscientious objectors have been confirmed as innocent. As of August 28, 913 cases are still pending trial.

Jehovah’s Witnesses began preaching in Korea in 1912. In Korea they are known for their refusal of military service in accordance with their religious beliefs. Their international convention will be held in Goyang KINTEX on September 13 to 15.

© Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania 2019.

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