Seventeen young men who are Jehovah’s Witnesses are imprisoned in Singapore for their conscientious objection to military service. Ten of them are serving a second sentence because they refused to change their stance after serving their first prison term. These young men have no legal recourse in Singapore, as the government enforces compulsory military service and does not recognize the right of conscientious objection.
When a young man turns 18 years of age, he is required to enter Singapore’s military. If he refuses for reasons of conscience, he is detained for up to 15 months in a military camp. At the expiration of his term, he is released and then immediately ordered to don a military uniform and participate in military training. If he again declines to do so, he is subject to a second court martial with a term of up to 30 months.
Thus, young Witness men who conscientiously object to military service are subjected to two consecutive prison terms, for a total of up to 45 months of imprisonment.
Singapore’s Refusal to Comply with UN Directives
The United Nations has long appealed to member States to “recognize that conscientious objection to military service should be considered a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Although Singapore has been a member State since 1965, it has expressed its disagreement with the United Nations on this issue. In a letter dated April 24, 2002, addressed to the UN Commission on Human Rights, a Singaporean government official stated that “where individual beliefs or actions run counter [to the right of national defense], the right of a state to preserve national security must prevail.” In no uncertain terms, the official wrote, “We do not recognize the universal applicability of conscientious objection to military service.”
April 18, 2022
Total of 17 of Jehovah’s Witnesses are in prison as conscientious objectors.
April 24, 2002
Government official confirms that Singapore does not recognize the right to conscientious objection.
Increased repression and arrests of Singaporean citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
August 8, 1994
High Court of Singapore dismisses the Witnesses’ appeal.
January 12, 1972
Government of Singapore deregisters Jehovah’s Witnesses.