SEOUL, July 14 (Yonhap) -- Leaders of seven religious orders in South Korea on Thursday urged the Constitutional Court to abolish the death penalty in their first joint opinion on the long-held dispute as the court was to hold an open hearing on the punishment.
In the written opinion submitted to the court a few hours before the hearing began, the leaders said capital punishment should be scrapped as it goes against human dignity and the right to life.
They include Ven. Wonhaeng, the head of the Jogye Order, the largest Buddhist sect in Korea; Lee Hong-jung, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, an organization of Protestant churches; and Archbishop Kim Hee-joong of Gwangju, chairman of the Committee for Promoting Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea.
"All criminals who harm other people deserve punishment, but the country should not take their life away through the cruel punishment," the leaders said. "Instead, the country must examine primary causes behind such crimes and seek ways to prevent lawbreaking. And it must make effort to give administrative support to victims."
The Constitutional Court held a public hearing on Thursday on whether to keep or abolish the death penalty as a first step to deliberate a constitutional petition filed by a man convicted of killing his parents in 2019.
Prosecutors demanded the death penalty for him, and he was later sentenced to life in prison.
South Korea is globally categorized as an "abolitionist in practice," having not carried out any death penalty since its last execution on Dec. 30, 1997. But capital punishment is still permissible under the law, and 60 people were serving time in prison at the end of 2020 after getting the death penalty.
The Constitutional Court previously ruled in favor of the death penalty system in 7-2 and 5-4 decisions in 1996 and 2010, respectively. Consent from at least six of the nine constitutional court judges are needed to rule the death penalty unconstitutional.
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