The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion. A legal revision will remove certain religious tax exemptions in January 2018. Watchtower International, a Jehovah’s Witnesses-affiliated nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported there were 277 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison for conscientious objection to military service, with an additional 654 on trial and 56 under investigation as of November. The total number of cases (680) was more than the 633 cases in 2016, although the number of prisoners was down from 352 in the previous year. The NGO also reported that the number of conscientious objectors on trial was at a 10-year high. In June the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK), an independent government human rights body, sent a recommendation to the minister of defense and the speaker of the national assembly to introduce legislation to provide an alternative service option and to revise the military service law related to conscientious objectors. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) stated that it would reassess the need for an alternate service that is consistent with international human rights standards, but expressed concerns that some would use this service to evade military service. The MND conducted a public opinion survey during the year and based on the results will consider a public hearing at the national assembly. The national assembly did not reply to the recommendation by year’s end.
The NHRCK reported 15 cases alleging religious discrimination as of September. Muslim groups reported a general view existed associating Muslims with terrorist activities and instances in which women wearing hijabs were denied job interviews.
U.S. embassy officials discussed issues related to religious freedom, including the jailing of conscientious objectors, with government officials, NGO representatives, and religious leaders. The embassy hosted a youth interfaith dialogue, cosponsored by the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP), including Muslim, Catholic, and Buddhist students.