Kim Ju-hwan faces a prison sentence for conscientious objection
Kim Ju-hwan faces a prison sentence for conscientious objection

Kim Ju-hwan is a 24-year-old with an uncertain future. His beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness have brought him into direct conflict with the conscription laws of his country – South Korea.

He now faces a year-long jail sentence if his appeal to his country’s Supreme Court does not prevail.

All Witnesses are raised to abhor violence and follow the Bible admonition to “love your enemy” to the letter, which means that military service of any kind is out of the question.

South Korea does make some modest concessions to conscientious objectors by offering alternative non-military service, but this doesn’t go far enough towards appeasing the Witness faith.

“There are jobs in the military that don’t require you to be out in the frontlines, like working in an office,” says Kim. “But nonetheless, you still have to go through five weeks of basic training, and this is what I and other conscientious objectors refuse to do. I think if this training was replaced with an alternative service, then we wouldn’t have a problem with serving.”

South Korea has rightly been criticized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for failing to recognize the rights of conscientious objectors. But rather than simply being a human rights issue, there are more complex reasons why South Korea must review its approach to conscription where Witnesses are concerned.

Fueling the persecution complex

Of all the governments in the world that should be intimately familiar with the insidious nature of totalitarian regimes who use undue influence to wrench unquestioned obedience and unflinching devotion from their subjects, it should be South Korea.

Locked in a perpetual state of war with its North Korean foe, which is cited as one of the reasons for its strict conscription policy, South Korea should be well versed in undue influence and how cult-like movements both political and religious thrive on the slightest hint of persecution or aggression to stoke the indoctrination of their minions.

Jehovah's Witnesses thrive on the notion that Satan's world is out to get them (image from Nov 15, 2013 Watchtower)
Jehovah’s Witnesses thrive on the notion that Satan’s world is out to get them (image from Nov 15, 2013 Watchtower)


But, for whatever reason, South Korea fails to see the irony that by embracing such draconian and backwards measures in its attempts to stave off one authoritarian regime, it is putting wind in the sails of another. For if there is one thing that plays straight into the hands of Watchtower’s propaganda machine, it is the notion of Witnesses like young Kim being persecuted for their convictions.

Human rights à la carte

A further irony is that, in riding to the defense of repressed adherents such as Kim, Watchtower invokes the same human rights Declaration that it routinely violates.

As has already been pointed out on this website, Watchtower rides roughshod over article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that every person has the “freedom to change his [or her] religion or belief.”

Rather than recognizing this freedom and allowing disenchanted Witnesses to leave freely, Watchtower coerces their family members to shun and have ill-feeling towards them, thus cynically using loved ones as a sadistic method of punishment in furtherance of its agenda.

Click here for a convention recording in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are urged to shun family members who leave.

But this doesn’t stop Watchtower from beseeching the UN Human Rights Committee in pressing for the freedom of worship of South Korean conscientious objectors who happen to be Witnesses, as the following yearbook quotes attest…

“On several occasions, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned South Korea for violating the right to freedom of conscience. New applications are currently pending before this Committee and before the South Korean Constitutional Court in an attempt to resolve the matter.” – yb13, p.41

“In the meantime, on March 24, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) ruled that South Korea violated internationally recognized standards of human rights when it imprisoned 100 conscientious objectors who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. (These 100 brothers had appealed to the UNHRC for having been imprisoned.)” – yb12, p.37

“To date, the Korean National Assembly has not considered any bill on alternative service. The brothers are awaiting decisions from the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, which ruled favorably on two applications.” – yb10, p.22

“Progress is being made in South Korea, where the government has refused to recognize the basic human right of conscientious objection to military service… To date, 488 applications have been filed with the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, which ruled favorably on two applications in 2006. In the meantime, our brothers hope that the government will follow through with its intention to enact a law that provides for acceptable alternative civilian service.” – yb09 p.23

Watchtower may not be as violently aggressive as the North Korean regime, but it is every bit as effective in using undue influence to control its subjects
Watchtower may not be as violently aggressive as the North Korean regime, but it is every bit as effective in using undue influence to control its subjects

So while the South Korean government may feel its stringent conscription policy gives it a further bulwark against the despotic whims of another Kim and his cronies, it would do well to consider that its draconian treatment of conscientious objectors does little more than fuel the persecution complex of cult victims not just in their country, but globally.

Young Witness men like Kim who are raised in the faith don’t have the luxury of seeing the broader picture.

They simply cannot know that they are pawns in a global propaganda campaign, or that their year in jail to escape crawling through mud for five weeks does nothing more than provide Watchtower’s writers with tear-jerking yearbook fodder.

But the South Korean government can (or should) be wise to both sides of the story, and by dismissing the concerns of the United Nations and neglecting to bring their conscription policies into conformity with human rights they are playing straight into the hands of the very sort of manipulative regime that menaces their border.








Further reading…

92 thoughts on “Why South Korea needs to stop giving Jehovah’s Witnesses reasons to feel persecuted

  • May 5, 2014 at 8:17 am

    For Defender: To be considered one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you have to be a believer in the Bible, God and the Organization. If you were abused by someone in the organization but because you didn’t have a 2nd witnesses to the abuse, you were not believed by your elders, would you still have faith in the Organization or the elders? Probably not. And so you lose your faith. Now you technically aren’t one of Jehovah’s Witnesses anymore and the elders can disfellowship you. You have every right to hold the Organization responsible for your loss of faith. The letter they read is that you are “no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses” and you will be considered a wrong doer, the same as if you had done something wrong and you will be shunned. Do you not see something evil about this picture?

  • May 6, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Um, I am not a JW anymore. I HAVE posted my blog here about my experience. I know you have many to read and probably didn’t get around to it. Why do I have to seek therapy for pointing out the meme group is all about shunning as well? Are you making the assertion that one has to totally support one or the other and cannot critically reason that BOTH have faults? Surely you are not that blind?

  • May 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I changed my IP address and now the posts are going through fine, so I am starting to suspect the site administrator tried to stop me from posting.

    Think seriously about this – the man who operates this site is trying to make sure the only people who post comments are people who agree with him. You will never create genuine dialogue that way.

    • May 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Make your own blog, it’s not forbidden. As long as your arguments satisfy my curiosity, I’d read your posts.

      That’ll save you a bunch of IP adresses as well …

    • May 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      For the record, I haven’t blocked you…. yet. But it doesn’t surprise me that you are playing the persecution card so readily like the organization you defend, which is far more prosperous at suppressing free expression than I will ever be.

    • May 6, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      Wrong again, Defender. There are plenty of posts from Christians, and Cedars has explained that he is agnostic.

      It is interesting that a JW, by definition a rep. of an outfit in which debate is forbidden on penalty of Armageddon execution, should be concerned that all views get a hearing.

      Why not try an achievable objective, Defender, like running a 24 minute mile? You are on a deadend mission if you imagine you can defend an indefensible cult in the presence of those of us who know the truth about JW TRUTH and have left that grubby little corner of Christendom behind.

      Well, we have left it behind as a way of life. What we will not do is cease warning the world about this seemingly innocent bunch of religious enthusiasts.

      The shunning, the deaths through the murderous blood edicts, the paedophile protection via the 2 witness rule, the stunted lives through the frowning on education once the ability to read and parrot JW lit. has been acquired and the nightmares induced by all those duff Armageddon prophecies……..

      You, Defender of the Faith, have provided no defence for these foul practices.

      Why not change your title to ‘Would be Defender of an indefensible little corner of Christendom’?

  • May 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    @ anonymous re losing faith in the Organization.
    I know a few dear “born ins” whose faith is/was primarily in the ORGANIZATION or “the brotherhood,” before God or Christ. When this faith is betrayed, as in the case of throwing victims of child abuse within the congregation to the dogs, the results are devastating.
    To them, the organization IS “God’s organization” (practically synonymous with God). When this faith in the organization is gone, all is lost.
    It seems that the penultimate sin is losing faith in the “Organization.” As long as you are a staunch defender of same, even if you are a child abuser, you are “in the club.” To hell with right and wrong, and the victims of abuse be damned (and disfellowshipped). The shame that rightfully belongs to the abuser is cast upon the victim when said victim is not believed and labelled as an evil wrongdoer.
    Not long ago, when I told my dear mom that I could not, in good conscience, continue to support the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and hence have not attended meetings for some time, she said, “well then, it looks as though Satan has won” (meaning that he has a hold on me now). I replied that, indeed, “Yes, he HAS won, when sexual predators are embraced in the congregation.” We agree to disagree. :(

  • May 7, 2014 at 3:31 am


    I’ve read many of your articles. You tend to use the same manipulative techniques you accuse the witnesses of employing – and that is very sad. Many ex-witnesses visiting your site will recognize that you do have a personal agenda far from the innocuous face you present.

    Anyway, to each one their own. Being myself an ex-witness, I would rather walk away from here than be manipulated again.


    • May 7, 2014 at 3:40 am

      Sorry to disappoint you. I can’t please everyone.

      Sadly being an ex-Witness does not make one free from Watchtower mind control, so I can understand if like many you are still sensitive to any criticism of the organization.

  • May 7, 2014 at 4:26 am

    It is not about being sensitive to any criticism of the organization. My focus is on your careful crafting of an otherwise tragic story of young people thrown in jail for being conscientious objectors into an amalgamation of other oddities, including the WT ex-communication/disfellowshipment policy. You split hairs to draw analogies to sell your argument. You are caught in the same trap you denounce.

    It is interesting that you mention mind control by the WT, which indeed is true. The flip side of the coin is that you are doing the same here, trying as hard as you can even when the occasion does not warrant it, to bend opinion (read “mind”) to accept your “reasoning”. You do not simply present the facts (or extractions of news reports as in this case), leaving the readers to make up their mind. You consciously manipulate your presentations to arrive at a specific conclusion. You are no better than the WT in this regard.


    • May 7, 2014 at 4:31 am

      There is a difference between manipulating people and expressing an opinion, which I am more than entitled to do. Those who don’t like my opinion are free to read other blogs, as are you. That’s how freedom of speech generally works.

  • May 7, 2014 at 6:33 am

    prince charmant,

    Of course Cedars has an opinion and he expresses it. It’s called a blog!

    This is not a site for JW news. It does not pretend to be without opinion.

    The difference is that Cedars presents his argument, with supporting evidence, and allows free discussion on his opinion.

    The WTBTS dictates belief, shuts down debate and never allows an alternative view to be even expressed.

    The fact that many pro witnesses are allowed to post on this site, and have their arguments challenged in open and free debate stands in stark contrast with the WTBTS modus operandi

    What is your opinion of Cedars’ articles on child abuse? Has he manipulated people unfairly, or are the facts pointing to his opinion being right?

    I fail to see your criticism of Cedars. I look forward to your response.

    Peace be with you


  • May 7, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Defender of True Faith,

    What is the true faith?

    Can you tell me what are false faiths?

    Can you point me to WTBTS literature that allows non Witnesses to express their views?

    I have had many interesting exchanges with pro WTBTS posters on this site. They are allowed to post here if they obey the posting rules. When was the last time you answered some questions?

    Do you believe that the WTBTS has a child protection policy that is fit for purpose? What do you think a victim with no “second witness” should do?

    You want an open and free debate, and I agree with you. Please provide answers to the questions you are asked, as we always answer questions raised by pro WTBTS posters.

    Peace be with you


  • May 9, 2014 at 7:15 am

    What a surprise!

    No responses to my detailed questions to prince charmant and defender of true faith.

    As usual, the pro witness contingent fails to have any response to reason and logic.

    I implore both of you, wake up! Make straight paths for your feet. Do what is right, and help us to bring peace and justice to the Witness rank and file.

    Peace be with you


  • May 9, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Wow! missed a few days and missed a lot. Fun catching up though.

    Had to say, I raised my glass in honor of the joy of reading, what a wonderful thing to read and feel connected to all of you good people.

  • May 12, 2014 at 9:34 am


    You asked: What is your opinion of Cedars’ articles on child abuse? Has he manipulated people unfairly, or are the facts pointing to his opinion being right?

    John Cedars is far from the first to write articles on child abuse, but I commend his campaign, as I do those of many others (Barbara Anderson for instance) who, at a high personal cost have led the battle. That was not the point I addressed in my reaction. If it is worth repeating, it is the manipulative use of information in this article that I rose against. Of course Cedars claims he is only expressing his opinion – and yes, he is fully entitled to it since this is his blog. But he also claims to speak on behalf of a silent majority, and utterly biased presentation of opinion and accumulation of disparate “facts” to arrive at the sort of conclusion I read in this article is unfortunate. Of course, that is my opinion and I do not force it on you or on anyone else.

    I am neither pro- nor anti-witness. I care very little about such labels. Where facts are fairly presented against WT teachings and practices (and they are mountains of such facts), I have no issues. When Cedars or anyone else presents – in my opinion – facts in that manner, they earn my respect for the presentation they make. Cedars has done so in some of his essays, but not in this one. You need not agree. It’s a free world.


    • May 12, 2014 at 9:39 am

      “But he also claims to speak on behalf of a silent majority” – where have I said that my views are representative of ALL the “silent majority” of thinking current and former witnesses?

      If you’re going to attack me for having an opinion, at least do me the honor of not putting words in my mouth. Or are you fond of creating straw men?

  • May 12, 2014 at 9:53 am


    I am not attacking you for having an opinion. I am only reacting to that opinion. It need not be seen as an attack.

    JWsurvey claims to give voice to THE silent majority. It is stated in bold at the very top of this page. What percentage of that majority do you have in mind? You did not say “SOME” of the silent majority. Granted, you did not also say “ALL” of the silent majority. But the definitive article “THE” suggests you’d rather speak for us all, right? I may have a poor understanding of English; it is my second language.


    • May 12, 2014 at 10:26 am

      (facepalm) Can someone explain to prince charmant what the SURVEY in JWsurvey stands for, and how it relates to the slogan in our masthead?

  • May 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    im still trying to figure out what the this prince person wants to solve by being on this site.
    what if i said all this is leading to nothing?
    would i be right?
    Religion comes and goes, but the bible remains ever so controversial.
    need we stress over things we have no control over?
    i dont think so life is too short.

  • May 13, 2014 at 12:49 am


    Simply having a discussion, nothing else. Does that make you uncomfortable?

    I am glad to read what others have to say on issues, and I chip in my little bit when I feel like it. And I believe I do that with decorum.

    How about you? Why are you here?


  • May 13, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Prince Charmant, here is my input if you care about it.

    Quite some people complain that Cedars has quite some attention, as he’s playing god, etc. I’d say, well, it’s his blog. Basically people who return here, even the ones harsh against the points raised, are interested in his findings, and the things he’s got to say … for different reasons. So basically it’s “Chez Cedars” here, so it’s an interaction between one vs several and it gives this impression of getting attention. As I said above, it’s his place here and he has an audiance. Anyone who puts the time and effort AND has something to say that appeals to an audience, can achieve the same.

    You and some other folks mentioned about Cedars style. As far as I’m concerned, I abandoned analyzing “styles” long ago. It is not important. What is important is the subject matter, at least for me. Because none of us is perfect, some are easily angry, some are too naive, some easily convinced, some never convinced, some like the irony … It doesn’t matter, we’re all different.

    I personally come here to read information, that’s what I’m interested in. I am also interested in some of the debates, if the arguments are of quality. But you can also see, everyone has a way to tackle a point. For my part, I prefer someone yelling truth than sweetly whispering lies. So far I find information of interest here and I’m actually glad for this. Do I agree 100% with every single point ? I guess not, everyone has a way to see things – all I can say, I haven’t seen false data here, and I’m happy with it.

    I like Cedars as much as I’d like anyone from the GB, they both are human beings, i.e. my brothers – at least at a starting point. Although it’s much more likely that I’d enjoy meeting up and having a chat with the former one than any of the latter group :-)

  • May 13, 2014 at 2:57 am


    Incidentally, I agree with you. I believe we are saying the same thing in different ways. There is room for all of us!


  • May 13, 2014 at 5:27 am

    no your comments dont make me feel uncomfortable,
    im lost as to what most are talking about on this particular article. sort of off the subject. I see a ‘debate’ that kind of confuses me. ths site i thought had a basic forum to talk to others but it doesnt so im not on here much. so i usually just read.
    Im sure youll agree it is difficult to have any tone in text. most misinterpret everyones tone when we type.
    im still trying to figure out what site i can go to, simply to discuss basic biblical history and not so much
    jw teachings which we all agree is quite questionable.
    this site is confusing to me. i cant even tell if im logged in.

    • May 13, 2014 at 5:55 am

      You may want to try out it’s a blog created and followed by a group of open minded JW’s (yes, this exists :-)) who discuss different subjects but still around the WT teachings.

      If you find any other place answering your needs please let me know, I’d like to read about such blogs myself as well.

      On the above blog for instance, I’m not sure if doubts about the Bible itself are really welcome. No one would shun you but I felt they aren’t inclined to discuss the authenticity of the Bible. Actually more I read about the Bible and the Bible itself, more I become convinced that the doctrine propaganda started very early, in such a way that I wonder if there has ever been God’s Word in writing …

      GB and its WT is just the tip of the iceberg … I feel that they are twisting what has already been twisted many times before.

      This site is for benefit of people who had or having a JW experience. Many indeed suffer consequences still in or out of the organization. Commenting and proving that the WT practices are not following its own definition, mainly the Biblical principles is one of the focus points here. It also strongly argues about GB’s being the sole channel for humanity from God.

  • May 13, 2014 at 6:06 am

    ive checked out only jwstruggle, the link from this site, thanks for the other link.
    yet i have for decades known that something wasnt right about the jw teaching. i went along with it hoping i was doing hte right thing, but when any organiztion claims the rightful place of jesus, and disfellowshipes people for digreeing, and other silly reasons like drinking alchohol, and having a beard,[it depends where you are in the world as to what you get disfelloshipped for, no unity there] thats when i drew the line. now i search for my own peace of mind. jesus load is light, not heavy.

  • May 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    prince charmant,

    The site is called JW Survey, giving a voice to the silent majority. It is the survey that provides a voice for the silent majority, not John Cedars’ blogs.

    I can see where your confusion came from.

    Of course, you can disagree with Cedars’ opinion, as you have done.

    I wish you well in your life post WTBTS.

    Peace be with you


  • May 13, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    sorry about all my misspelled words!
    thats what i get for not wearing glasses this morning. as for Gods word, yea ive wondered as well, so in research,
    i have read the book ‘misquoting jesus’ the story behind who changed the bible and why.
    by bart ehrman. very good read, easy to read too. ive always wondered why some texts in the bible were repeated , or sounded out of place, now i know. [and ive actually seen some of the errors in bible text myself recently] for that, i hope to never fear mans
    Interpretations, since they are based on mans inacurate and biased writings.

  • May 14, 2014 at 3:45 am


    Thank you very much. That clears it up for me. And best wishes to you too.


  • May 14, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Hey Chatpal, thank you for the reference, it sounds interesting. Yes, there are lots of doubts around how Jesus’ life was written down and passed on to our days.

    I’m reading an interesting book about all the unlikelinesses and contradictions in the Bible, I must say it’s quite mind blowing.

    I feel it’s like reading one of Hakizimana’s post for 300 pages :-)

  • May 19, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    @kufro – raptured? where is Rutherford, where is blah, blah, blah? the point remains, this group and many others prior were conscientious objectors when the Watchtower, ancestors to current JW’s, were fumbling about whether to be “neutral” or support armies.

    Elijah Voice Society among other groups, like Jehovites (1926, and pre-dating Rutherford’s name snatch) refused flag saluting, army conscription and aligning with political parties. EVS was primarily a West Coast faction of the Standfasters schism from Bible Students, and from descriptions kept amicable relations with former associates even if not ongoing communion rather than a shunning policy of contempt and shame.

    And, given the ‘war chest’ the honchos at HQ are accumulating, where will the Watchtower Society be, if these decide to break-free of their historical baggage? No sentiments, remember? Buildings. Literature. Logos. Corporate entities. All fair game to be shoved aside, like stones on the highway, as they march toward oblivion. If you check out google for various corporate entities linked to WtS, it’s quite a list–not only the international branch HQ’s, but various shells and so forth for legal gymnastics and “special orders”.

  • January 18, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Why shouldn’t Witnesses be allowed to avoid killing ANOTHER HUMAN BEING? That makes no sense to me. I know you’re bias because you have a bad history with the religion, but even a person who is not a JW would be disgusted by the fact that a person has to be force to kill someone even if it will only cause more issues. JWs may shun people who turn their backs on their God, but at least they will never kill you or make you kill another human being. That’s more than what I can say about most religions.

  • March 28, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Cedars, you’re doing a great job. Keep it up.

  • June 26, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Well, if south korea stop giving Jehovah’s Witnesses reasons to feel persecuted… is fine to me … no more Jehovah’s Witnesses in jail. and more on the street preaching …

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