S. KOREA - The military prosecution is pushing to press murder charges against a group of soldiers for physical abuse of a junior serviceman that led to his death, officials said Friday.
"The prosecutor's office at the Defence Ministry has submitted its opinion to the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters that it should apply murder charges to five soldiers indicted for beating up a 23-year-old draftee surnamed Yoon," an official from the Defence Ministry said Friday.
Prosecutors at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters technically has the final say on the issue. But they are highly unlikely to turn down the proposition, considering that the Defence Ministry is of higher station than an army corps.
Although the five have already been indicted for manslaughter, lawmakers and members of the public have been calling for more severe punishment. The primary charge will be murder and the secondary charge, in case the murder charge fails to secure a conviction, will be manslaughter.
The prosecution may be able to press charges of murder by gross negligence, if they can prove the five soldiers beat Yoon in disregard for his life, military sources said. But others said proving the soldiers' ill intentions would be infeasible, considering that they performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Yoon after he fell unconscious.
Yoon was reportedly subject to prior physical, mental and sexual abuse by the six senior servicemen. The the direct cause of his death is thought to have been a piece of food that obstructed his airway, which led to death by asphyxiation.
While the blocking of the airway was caused by the beating, the concussion from the beating was not what killed him, officials from the Agency for Defence Development claimed.
"A cerebral hemorrhage would have occurred if he died from a concussion, which was not what happened in Yoon's case," said an ADD official.
Yoon's case shed light on rampant physical, mental, verbal and even sexual abuse in the military.
It was recently reported that a soldier serving in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, in June forced a junior colleague to lick a urinal, as punishment for doing a poor job cleaning it.
Another soldier from a battalion in North Gyeongsang Province had confiscated a credit card from a junior serviceman and used it, while senior soldiers locked up the new recruits in a warehouse and abused them physically and sexually.
In 2011, a soldier committed suicide after being severely beaten by senior officials. While the soldiers and officers attempted to cover up their faults, the case was revealed in a probe by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.
In response to the public furor raised by Yoon's death, the Army, Navy and Air Force ceased their daily routine on Friday to conduct a special human rights education programme.
All military personnel, from the enlisted to commanders, received booklets that provided examples on actual abuse cases and how to respond to such incidents.
They also held group discussions on how to better Korea's military culture, which generally regards abuse of lower ranking soldiers as acceptable disciplinary action.