Religious leaders call for the abolition of the death penalty in South Korea – Buddhistdoor Global

Protesters outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul demand the abolition of the death penalty. From koreaherald.com

As South Korea’s Constitutional Court launched a public hearing into the constitutional legality of capital punishment, leaders of seven religious groups, including the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, South Korea’s largest Buddhist order, submitted a joint statement urging the court to abolish the death penalty. .

The petition – the first such joint statement in Korea – was submitted to the court ahead of the hearing, which began on July 14. Signatories include Venerable Wonhaeng, head of the Jogye Order; Lee Hong-jung, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Korea, which represents Protestant churches; and Kim Hee-joong, Archbishop of Gwangju City and Chairman of the Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue of the Korea Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Representatives of the Buddhist Won Order, the Confucian Sungkyunkwan Movement, the pantheistic religious movement Cheondogyo and the Association of Religions of Korea also endorsed the statement.

Spiritual leaders have called for an end to capital punishment, saying the practice is contrary to human dignity and the right to life. “All criminals who hurt other people deserve to be punished, but the country should not take away their lives through this cruel punishment,” the joint statement said. “Instead, the country must look at the root causes of these crimes and look for ways to prevent breaches of the law. And it must make efforts to provide administrative support to the victims. (Yonhap News Agency)

Fri. Wonhaeng, head of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, in 2018. From yonhapnews.co.kr

The Jogye Order is a school of Seon (Zen) Buddhism with roots dating back approximately 1,200 years to the unified Silla Kingdom (also known as the Later Silla) (668–935). The Jogye school as a distinct entity emerged in the late 11th century when the monk Bojo Jinul, credited as the school’s founder, sought to combine Seon practices with the theological foundations of Buddhist schools based on the sutras, including Korean Pure Land Buddhism. The order now represents the largest segment of South Korea’s Buddhist population, administering around 1,900 active temples, more than 13,000 monks and seven million lay worshipers.

While capital punishment remains legal, South Korea has maintained an abolitionist political stance for more than 20 years. A total of 920 executions took place between 1948 and the most recent executions on December 30, 1997, when 23 people were hanged, each of whom was convicted of murdering at least two people. There are currently 59 people serving a sentence on death row. In June this year, a court sentenced a 53-year-old man to death for the murder of a woman and the murder of an accomplice in December 2021.

The late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a prominent pro-democracy politician who held office from 1998 to 2003, was charged with treason and insurrection in 1980 and sentenced to death under military dictator Chun Doo -hwan. The death sentence was later commuted to a prison sentence following an international outcry. While later president, Kim did not authorize any executions.

The Constitutional Court during the public hearing on the death penalty on July 14. At yna.co.kr

In two previous Constitutional Court hearings, in 1996 and 2010, judges voted in favor of the death penalty in split decisions of 7-2 and 5-4, respectively. In 2020, the Korean Ministry of Justice expressed its support for an international debate on the abolition of the death penalty, voting for the first time in favor of a resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The latest Constitutional Court hearing follows a constitutional petition filed in 2019 by a man convicted of murdering his parents in 2018. Although prosecutors sought the death penalty for his conviction, the court later commuted his sentence in prison for life. According to local media, six out of nine votes must be cast in favor of abolition for the death penalty to be declared unconstitutional.

“Life is an absolute value which cannot be removed by legal judgment,” the religious leaders said in their statement to the court. “As society has changed over the past 12 years, we expect a fitting conclusion this time.” (UCA News)

According to 2015 census data, the majority of South Korea’s population (56.1%) has no religious affiliation. Christians are the largest religious segment of the population at 27.6%, while Buddhists make up 15.5%.

See more

Religious Leaders Urge Constitutional Court to Abolish Death Penalty (Yonhap News Agency)
Court issues rare death sentence for suspect in double murder case (Yonhap News Agency)
The death penalty revisited (The Korean Herald)
The Constitutional Court begins its deliberations on the appeal against the death penalty (Korea time)
Korean religious groups call for the abolition of the death penalty (UCA News)
South Korean court to consider constitutionality of death penalty for first time in 12 years (Hankyoreh)
Religious leaders submit joint opinion on abolition of death penalty (KBS World)
Constitutional Court holds hearing on capital punishment (KBS World)

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