Constitutional Court Upholds Security Law, Rejects Conscientious Objectors' Petition

The Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled two anti-communist clauses of the National Security Law are constitutional, in a decision that may further fuel a controversy over the vaguely-worded sections.

The nine-member panel unanimously ruled two clauses of Article 7 of the security law, which prohibits South Koreans from praising the North Korean regime and carrying materials which may benefit the communist country, are not against the Constitution.

The court’s decision is seen as advocating the necessity of the security law as a means of defending the country from the communist North amid existing ideological confrontation between the two Koreas.

The court’s ruling contradicts a recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on Tuesday that South Korea abolish the law, saying it violates people’s basic rights, such as freedom of speech and expression.

In another verdict, the Constitutional Court ruled against ``conscientious objectors,’’ saying the military service law, which currently punishes those refusing to serve mandatory military service due to religious reasons, is in line with the Constitution.

Conscientious objectors have claimed the government should establish a system for them to offer alternative service instead of serving in the military, saying the military service law, which doesn’t have related regulations, is unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling is in line with a Supreme Court ruling in July. The Supreme Court convicted a Jehovah’s Witness of draft dodging for his religious faith, putting national security over religious belief or conscience.

The security law was established in 1948 by the Syngman Rhee government, and has since been revised seven times. However, previous governments had misused the law to gag political dissidents and suppress the democratic movement.

Human rights groups have claimed the two anti-communist clauses are too obscure and could target a wide range of people. Last August, a citizen submitted a petition to the Constitution Court asking for a review of the constitutionality of the clauses, after lower courts dismissed his petitions.

In 1999, the court also ruled the clauses have no problem constitutionally.

Reform-minded lawyers and civic groups have argued the law has been misused to vilify democratic movements as anti-state activities, while conservative forces say South Korea still needs it since security conditions are still far from stable.

Political parties have generally agreed that a change to the security law is inevitable amid increasing inter-Korean trade and exchange, but determining the scope of change is emerging as a hot issue.

The court’s ruling however is expected pour cold water on the move by political parties to revise or scrap the security law. On Wednesday, Prosecutor General Kim Seung-kyu urged political parties to take a more prudent approach in discussing the change, saying the nation could find itself in serious danger without the law.