South Korea‘s Constitutional Court upheld a prohibition on tattooing, making it the only developed country that allows only medical professionals to perform the process.
Tattoo artists slammed the move, calling it antiquated and culturally insensitive.
Despite the decades-old ban, there are almost 50,000 tattoo artists in South Korea, who face police raids and prison if they practise their trade.
Violations of the ban can result in fines of up to 50 million won ($41,300) and prison sentences of up to two years, however the legislation allows for up to life in prison.
Since 2017, tattooist associations have filed a succession of legal challenges to the rule, claiming that it violates their freedom of expression and right to engage in a profession.
On Thursday, the Lawful Court concluded that the bill was constitutional by a 5-4 majority. The complaints were dismissed, with the company claiming that tattooing has potential adverse effects and safety concerns.
The judgement said that “the limited medical knowledge and abilities involved in tattooing cannot ensure the levels of treatment that medical professionals can provide, treatment that may be required before or after the process.”
The decision was denounced by a group of 650 tattoo artists, who called it “retrograde” and “not worth a penny.”
“When all citizens walk upright, the court is still walking on four feet,” said Kim Do-yoon, the union’s chief and a renowned tattooist known as Doy.
Even though Japanese courts have since overturned that ruling, Kim said the court has failed to advance since a 1992 Supreme Court decision that duplicated a Japanese verdict stating that tattooing is a medicinal activity.
The existing regulation, according to Kim Sho-yun, vice president of the Korea Tattoo Federation, is “nonsense,” especially considering the country’s burgeoning tattoo business and rising global status.
“Why do they claim tattooing is a medical treatment when doctors can’t and won’t do it?” she asked, sadly, at a press conference in front of the courthouse, promising to keep fighting.
Because of their fine-line designs, delicate details, and use of vibrant colours, “K-tattoos” have been increasingly popular both at home and abroad in recent years.
While tattoos are typically hidden on television, several Korean celebrities, including members of K-pop bands, have shown off their ink on social media.
Most South Koreans support tattoo legalisation, according to polls, but medical associations oppose it, claiming that tattooing with needles is an invasive practise that might harm the body.
Before last month’s election, President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol declared support for the legalisation of so-called cosmetic tattoos, which are semi-permanent and popular for enhancing brows, eyelines, and hairlines.