In June, 333 Jehovah's Witnesses who had all been jailed for refusing conscription filed a joint petition with the Constitutional Court, demanding that conscientious objection be decriminalised.

The petition argued that genuine objectors be provided with an alternative to military service, such as community work.

The South Korean military relies heavily on conscription and military service often involves postings to front-line positions on the border with North Korea.

In May 2010, a North Korean submarine torpedoed the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, killing 46 sailors including 16 who were on their military service.

In November the same year, the North shelled a South Korean border island, killing two marines - both of them young conscripts.

Such incidents make the debate over military service extremely sensitive and woe betide anyone caught trying to cheat their way out of it.

South Korean law requires anyone seeking a top government post or a seat in parliament to provide proof not only of their own service records but also those of their children.

And yet hundreds do try and avoid the draft every year, using tactics that range from extended overseas study, to starving themselves so that they fail the medical.

Other examples include the members of a break-dancing troupe arrested for pretending to have mental disorders, and a student who intentionally dislocated his shoulder and underwent surgery so as to fail the medical exam.

A few years ago, there was a mini-fad for large tattoos, which carry an organised-crime association in South Korea and can result in people being declared unsuitable for military service.

The loophole was effectively closed by a series of arrests of young men opting for last-minute all-body tattoos, who were then charged with "wilfully tampering" with their bodies to avoid service and jailed.

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