Death of corporal sparks allegations of abuse in Taiwanese military

Soldier dies from heat stroke after being subjected to excessive disciplinary action

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 July, 2013, 4:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 11:19am

The death of a Taiwanese national serviceman has ignited a public furore and thrown light on abuses in the island’s military.

Corporal Hung Chung-chiu died of internal bleeding and multiple organ failure on July 4, only two days before he was scheduled to be discharged. A military autopsy carried out on July 15 revealed that his condition had been caused by heat stroke and fatigue from excessive discipline and confinement.

Prior to his death, Hung had been serving in the 542nd Armor Brigade in Hsinchu, central Taiwan. After bringing a mobile phone onto the base, he was sentenced to a week in disciplinary confinement by two superior officers. According to statements given to Taiwan’s Eastern Television News by Liu Hsuan-yang, a friend of Hung, officers claimed that Hung did not show proper respect for military rules.

“If [Hung] had not offended those two officers, he would not have died,” Liu reportedly said.

The officers reported Hung to their deputy brigade commander, who ordered that he be confined “to establish the prestige of the military". According to Liu, the commander even told other officers that “if [they] did not have Hung confined, then [they] would be confined [themselves] for disobeying orders”.

After serving a week in a cell, Hung was freed on July 3 and forced to participate in a 45-minute drill that included running, push-ups and sit-ups. Hung complained to guards that he had just been freed from disciplinary confinement and the “drilling was beyond his physical strength,” but he was ignored, reported Focus Taiwan. During the drill, which was conducted in great heat and humidity, Hung collapsed. He died in hospital the next day.

Hung’s death has sparked an outcry against overly rigorous discipline and abuse of power in the Taiwanese military. An investigation after the incident occurred reviewed that normally, two meetings amongst superior officers are required before a serviceman can be sent into confinement, and in Hung’s case, only one meeting was held. Guards overseeing morning drills should also have taken into account Hung’s condition after being discharged from solitary confinement, Focus Taiwan reported.

Liu’s interview with Eastern Television News also revealed that Hung’s week-long punishment was a far cry from the usual no-outing during weekend restrictions that are given to serviceman accused of phone violations, suggesting that Hung’s superiors might have punished him because of a personal vendetta.

Taiwanese national defence minister Kao Hua-chu personally apologised for the incident on 15 July, saying that even though Hung had technically died of heat stroke, the military held “administrative [and] legal responsibility for the case.” Kao also took personal responsibility for Hung’s death and tendered his resignation, but stayed on at the request of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou.

As of July 13, the Ministry of National Defence had punished 27 army officers involved with the case with demerits and military prosecution, Taipei Times reported. Investigations are continuing.

Ma said in a statement that Hung’s death was the result of “absolute power leading to absolute corruption,” and ordered the Ministry of National Defence “to get to the bottom of the case…as quickly as possible.”

Ever since news of the incident emerged, Taiwanese commentators have taken to Facebook to express vocal criticism of Taiwan’s military.

“If these incompetent leading cadres aren’t removed, they will only harm other army personnel,” one commentator wrote. “We don’t need to pay tax dollars to support these destructive animals.”