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SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean military court convicted a soldier Wednesday for having gay sex, prompting an international rights group to urge the country’s new government to repeal its “archaic and discriminatory” laws.

An unidentified army captain was sentenced to six months in jail, but the sentence was suspended for a year. That means he won’t go to jail if he doesn’t break the law for a year, but he will be dishonorably discharged if the sentence stands.

The case has drawn new attention to the South Korean military’s penal code banning homosexual activity.

Most South Korean men have to serve about two years in the military under a compulsory service law because the country faces a constant threat from North Korea. Gay men are not exempt, and rights groups say they face an extra burden of violence, bullying and verbal abuse.

Amnesty International called on the military to immediately overturn the sentence and to end what it called a “bigoted hunt to root out gay personnel.”

“The conviction raises fears that dozens of other military personnel will face a similar fate,” the London-based rights group said in a statement.

Last month, a South Korean military rights advocacy group accused the army of setting up fake profiles on dating apps in a bid to root out gay soldiers.

The Military Human Rights Center of Korea said the army, acting on orders from the chief of staff Gen. Jang Jun-kyu, had drawn up a so-called “gay list” with at least 40 names of military personnel.

South Korea’s military has denied the claims, saying it was investigating the posting of an online video appearing to show two male soldiers having sex earlier this year.

A defense ministry official on Wednesday pointed to a statement issued in April insisting that the military was making efforts to ensure rights are respected. But, it said, homosexual activity violates the current code and will be punished in accordance with legal procedures.

The Military Human Rights Center of Korea, a nongovernmental organization, denounced Wednesday’s verdict and the military ban.

“It’s a strange clause that only has a perpetrator, without a victim,” the group said in a statement.

"Sexual minorities who are always living in danger of being outed by others now must live in fear that they could be tracked down at any time and interrogated over their private lives," the group said.

The soldier collapsed when the judgment was handed down and was briefly hospitalized, officials said.

His lawyer, Kim In Sook, called the sentence “ridiculous” but said her client didn’t plan to appeal it because he found the legal procedures too exhausting.

She said 15 other soldiers are expected to face trial on similar charges in coming weeks.

Amnesty International’s East Asia research director Roseann Rife called on South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in to send “an unequivocal message” that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity won’t be tolerated.

“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,” Rife said.

Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea although it is widely considered taboo in the conservative country. Under the military code, however, a soldier who commits “sodomy” or “other disgraceful conduct” can face up to two years in prison.

The issue has in the past affected U.S. military families based in South Korea as same-sex couples were long deprived of the same legal protections and benefits provided under the status of forces agreement between the two countries.

That changed last year when the United States added South Korea to a list of overseas duty stations approved for same-sex couples. South Korea’s government said it would respect the decision.

chang.kyong@stripes.comgamel.kim@stripes.com Twitter: @kimgamel

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