18 indicted over Taiwan conscript's death

TAIPEI - Taiwanese prosecutors indicted 18 military officials on Wednesday over the death of a young conscript who had been subjected to "cruel and abusive" punishment, in an incident that has sparked widespread anger.

Corporal Hung Chung-chiu died of heatstroke on July 4, just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service. His family said he was forced to do excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base.

Chief military prosecutor general Tsao Chin-sheng said Hung, 24, suffered from heatstroke after being subjected to "exercises that were unbearable, cruel and abusive" that resulted in his death from multiple organ failure.

"I am sorry that the case caused public anger and shook confidence in the military. Our only goal is to find the truth, to give the public an answer and hope Chung-chiu can rest in peace," Tsao said.

Among those indicted, Chen Yi-hsun, who oversaw Hung's punishment while in solitary confinement, was charged with abuse that led to the conscript's death by imposing excessive exercise on him.

Major General Shen Wei-chih, the former commander of Hung's Brigade, deputy commander Ho Chiang-chung and four others were charged with "collectively imposing illegal punishment on a subordinate" and offences against personal liberty.

Ten other officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for not noticing that Hung's health was failing and not taking necessary measures during his time in solitary confinement to prevent his death.

One official was charged with transferring Hung to solitary confinement without authorisation.

Prosecutors did not specify what jail terms they were seeking. Legal experts say the most severe charge is of abuse leading to death, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

Hung's family have said that he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by his superiors.

Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu stepped down this week after the case triggered demonstrations outside the defence ministry and other allegations of abuse and misconduct in the military.

Both Kao and President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings have plummeted in recent months, have apologised for the incident, vowing to investigate the case and punish those responsible.

Currently four military officials have been detained by authorities on abuse charges in connection with the case, while punitive measures have been imposed on 26 others.