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Light sentences for suspects in army recruit’s death
8 months for ex-unit chief, 6 months for 17 others
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2014-03-07 04:30 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – One suspect in last year’s death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday while the other 17 accused received six months each, provoking angry reactions from the young victim’s relatives.

The 24-year-old man’s death just days before the end of his compulsory military service last July shocked the nation and provoked massive protests. A total of 18 officers were charged with offenses related to Hung’s death, including involuntary manslaughter.

The Taoyuan District Court gave eight months to the former chief of the unit at the 542nd brigade in Hsinchu County where Hung served, Major Hsu Hsin-cheng, and six months to all the others accused, including former brigade chief Major General Shen Wei-chih, deputy commander Colonel Ho Chiang-chung and Staff Sergeant Fan Tso-hsien.

When the scandal broke last summer, Ho and Fan were soon fingered as the main culprits, with accusations in the media that they had conspired to punish Hung because he allegedly threatened to bring out details of illegal trades by the officers.

Staff Sergeant Chen Yi-hsun, who oversaw Hung’s punishment at Taoyuan County’s 269th Brigade, also received six months Friday, although he was charged with abusing a subordinate to death by forcing him to perform excessive exercises. The charge could have earned him a life sentence.

Because several of the sentences could be replaced by fines, 11 of those convicted would not have to prison, reports said. Shen’s attorney said the former brigade chief only played a marginal role in the case, so he would certainly file an appeal against Friday’s verdict.

Hung was officially punished because he had brought a camera phone into his base against regulations. Despite the recent ending of severe disciplinary measures for such a deed, he was sent into disciplinary confinement at the 269th brigade, where he collapsed after being forced to perform strenuous exercises.

The young man’s parents, sister and other relatives were in court Friday to hear the verdict, but they reacted shocked at the light sentences for the officers. “This kind of verdict represents tolerance for hidden plots in the armed forces,” the late corporal’s father told reporters.

“One life is only worth six months, so nobody is going to bear responsibility (for Hung’s death),” his mother said.

The family’s attorneys said the rulings were unacceptable and they would study how to appeal them at the High Court. They emphasized though that the verdicts had included the important step of finding all the officers jointly responsible for the conscript’s death.

Before the announcement of the court’s decision, Hung’s father said that there was no way he could forgive the 542nd brigade. The senior officers should receive heavy sentences because they had sent his son to his death, though he added he had forgiven the lower officers because they had apologized during the trial.

Asked about the verdicts at the Legislative Yuan, Justice Minister Luo Ying-shay said her department would study the documents and file eventual appeals within ten days.

Hung’s death led to an investigation into abuse of power and bullying inside the military, while questions were asked about the presence or absence of cameras supposed to record the conscript’s disciplinary treatment. The young man’s relatives and activists blamed prosecutors for only tackling lower officers and not take on the responsibility of senior officers for failing to supervise the action against Hung.

Camp commanders should have checked whether Hung really committed the violations of rules he was accused of, and whether the punishment inflicted on him was not too strenuous for his health condition at the time, critics said. The corporal officially collapsed from heatstroke.

Hung’s family and their supporters wore white in court Friday as a sign of remembrance for the victim. Earlier, the dead man’s father told reporters that he was hopeful about the verdict, emphasizing this was the first time that a case from the military had been handled by a civilian court.

As a consequence of last year’s public outrage, lawmakers rapidly passed amendments approving the transfer of peacetime crime cases from the military to the civilian justice system.

Hung’s death touched off a wave of indignation, with up to 250,000 people attending a commemorative protest last August 3 after Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu left office.

Organizers of the event did not rule out new protests following Friday’s court rulings.

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