S. Korean soldier beaten to death, says rights groups

Beatings were the direct cause of Army Private Yoon's death, the Center for Military Human Rights Korea claimed Thursday, contradicting earlier reports from the military.

The centre also said that Yoon was likely to have already died when he arrived at the medical centre, contradicting the military's reports.

Yoon, a 23-year old draftee with the Army's 28th Infantry Division, died on April 7 after being beaten by senior soldiers in his unit.

"Yoon fell unconscious while being beaten by senior soldiers, and it is highly likely that he died when his airways closed up due to losing consciousness," Lim Tae-hoon, head of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea, said at a press conference on Thursday.

Lim also said that Yoon was likely to have suffered a concussion after a sergeant delivered several blows to his head and that a loss of consciousness is likely to have occurred before his heart stopped due to the continued beating. The sergeant, identified as Lee, is the main suspect in the case, and is believed to have led the habitual beatings and mistreatment Yoon was subjected to.

"As (the evidence) suggests that there could be a direct connection between Yoon's death and the injuries caused by the suspects, the military prosecutors need to change the charges."

The military had initially announced that Yoon was transferred to the facility on April 6 after he fell unconscious and that he died on the following day while receiving treatment. In the report, the military had summarized that Yoon had fallen unconscious when his airways were blocked by food that he ate after he was beaten. Based on the report and the suspects' claims that they attempted to revive Yoon, the military prosecutors have charged them with manslaughter instead of murder.

In addition to the Center for Military Human Rights Korea's claims, Yoon's autopsy report obtained by a local broadcaster indicated that the beatings are likely to have caused his death.

According to the report, bruising and internal bleeding had occurred all over Yoon's body. The examiners also found a large edema in his brain and broken ribs. The report also states that his heart was bruised, internal bleeding had occurred in the chest and abdominal cavities, and his spleen was ruptured.

In addition, more evidence of the case being mishandled by the military has also emerged, adding more pressure on National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin.

According to Ministry of National Defence documents obtained by New Politics Alliance for Democracy's Rep. Yoon Hu-duk, Kim received a report detailing the circumstances of Yoon's death on April 8, when he was serving as defence minister. The report was also submitted to a number of the military's ranking officials including the deputy minister and chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Kim's response, made on April 21, was to remove the commanders of the relevant regiment and battalions while keeping the division commander in place.