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SNU Student Campaigns Against Two Taboos

Jul 16, 2008

Some people say there are two taboos in Korea ㅡ military service and religion. You can get assaulted or even killed for arguing about either of these issues.

But, Kang We-suck, a 22-year-old law student at Seoul National University is openly talking about both.

On Monday he appealed to the Supreme Court against his high school for allegedly compelling students to attend religious services and classes, depriving them of religious freedom. He is also holding a campaign against the military draft system and is collecting 100 people who would ``be willing to go to prison for their `causes'.''

``Eleven have already joined our campaign,'' he said Thursday. He claimed that a large military is not necessary these days when most battles simply involve pushing buttons for missiles.
Recruiting those who would really want to fight for the country and paying them a reasonable salary is more efficient, he said.

``The 11 shared the view that being in barracks is meaningless to many ㅡ you do the training seven hours a day, eat and sleep without having to really think what you are doing there. Not everyone has to do that,'' he said.

Kang, who suffered a brain injury during a professional boxing match, is subject to alternative military service, working at a public organization instead of a military camp. However, he said he would refuse to serve the alternative service also because he thinks forcing someone to be in any form of military service is unfair.

Recently, the government started to review whether or not to allow conscientious objectors to perform alternative military service. The chances Kang and his friends could go to prison for disobedience are quite high. ``Yes, probably we will. But it doesn't mean I should stop,'' he said.

Kang has been considered controversial since 2004, when he was a student president at DaeKwang High School founded by protestant Christians. He held protests and went on a fast for 46 days against the school's forced religious education. He was expelled from the school before being readmitted due to his lawsuit.

He is now campaigning for ``the rights of people to choose.''

Kang has a number of supporters. He was picked man of the year in 2004 by the progressive Hankyoreh newspaper for his ``struggle.''

``I want to do what I like. I want you to do what you like. I want all others to do what they like as long as they do not harm others. That's a basic human right. Is that a bad thing?'' he said.

July 16, 2008
Reported by The Korean Times