South Korea convicts army captain for gay sex

Soldier given suspended sentence handed down over homosexual acts ban in military

South Korea’s  new president Moon Jae-in: said during the campaign that he opposed homosexuality within the military. Photograph:   AFP/Getty Images/Yonhap

South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in: said during the campaign that he opposed homosexuality within the military. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images/Yonhap

 

South Korea’s military court has sentenced an army captain to six months in prison, suspended for a year, for having sex with a fellow male soldier, in a ruling criticised by human rights groups.

While South Korea does not criminalise gay sex among its citizens, including in the military, the country’s military criminal code bans homosexual intercourse in the barracks and the army has been accused of carrying out a witch hunt against gay troops.

Homosexuality remains a taboo in many Asian countries and the sentencing of the Korean soldier comes one day after two men were publicly caned in Indonesia for gay sex.

The Military Human Rights Centre of Korea (MHRCK) said the captain, whose identity was withheld, was convicted under the Military Criminal Act, a law from 1962 which bans homosexual sex and states that a soldier who commits “sodomy” or “other disgraceful conduct” can face up to two years in prison.

“It is a bizarre clause that only has a perpetrator, without a victim,” the centre said. According to the Yonhap news agency, the group said the officer had consensual sexual intercourse at a private place, not a military facility.

Two years of military service is compulsory for all men in South Korea, with prison the penalty for those who refuse to comply. Despite being forced to do the mandatory service, gay men often face bullying, violence and verbal abuse.

The MHRCK said the captain collapsed after the ruling and was transferred to a nearby hospital, but was later released.

“The captain was fulfilling his military duty and was originally scheduled to be discharged in April,” the official said. The officer is not planning to appeal the ruling.

‘Witch hunt’

Amnesty International described the conviction as an “outrageous witch hunt”.

“This unjust conviction should be immediately overturned. No one should be persecuted based on his or her sexual orientation, activity or gender identity alone. What counts is their service not their sexuality,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty International.

“It is long overdue for South Korea to repeal this archaic and discriminatory provision in the military criminal code, and get up-to-date when it comes to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people,” she said.

Homosexuality in the military arose during the recent presidential election, with the victor Moon Jae-in saying he opposed homosexuality within a military tasked with defending the nation against North Korea.

Mr Moon, a liberal former human rights lawyer who was also a special forces soldier, is on record saying he is against discrimination against homosexuals, on the basis that it is a “privacy” issue, but he also opposes the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

In a TV debate during the election, Mr Moon said he opposed homosexuality within the military because it was tasked with defending South Korea against North Korea’s 1.2-million strong army.

“I don’t like it . . . there could be many side effects if homosexuality is allowed within the military where mostly people of the same sex live together in the barracks,” he said.

“There could be coercion due to homosexuality, or somebody could stalk a person in higher authority, and this could also lead to sexual harassment or assaults,” he added. Although it might have been a tactic to win conservative votes, Mr Moon’s comments shocked and alienated liberal voters, especially in the LGBTI community.

In April, the MHRCK prepared a petition for South Korea’s national human rights commission against the army’s chief of staff and a team of investigators, saying they were hunting down gay soldiers.