A state-run human rights watchdog has decided to investigate recent abuse cases among police troops, officials said Monday.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said it will look into three separate cases, involving two deaths, to see if the policemen suffered physical assault or other forms of bullying in their barracks.
A 21-year-old policeman at a combat unit in South Chungcheong Province died of leukemia in June. His parents claimed that their son had suffered frequent violence from seniors and had become ill due to extreme stress.
Another junior conscript in an Incheon unit committed suicide on Jan. 25, the day he was supposed to return to the barracks after a six-month medical leave. The unit had long been suspected of turning a blind eye to frequent abuses by seniors.
The watchdog started its own investigation into the two deaths allegedly connected to abuse at the barracks.
The NHRC also plans to inspect abuse cases within a riot police squad in Wonju, Gangwon Province. The decision came even though the squad was dismantled on Friday after its seniors were found to have abused young conscripts.
The combat unit raised concerns after a series of recent abuse cases. In 2005, demeaning photographs of junior officers were released through the internet. More recently, six juniors ran away from the unit to avoid ongoing abuse.
On Friday, the Gangwon Regional Police Agency broke up the 90-member unit, relocating 59 officers to other areas.
“We will analyze whether the practices in barracks and other service environments have any relation with physical assault and other bullying behaviors. We also will discuss together with the police if the legal responsibility of those involved in the abuse needs to be toughened,” said an official of the NHRC.
Amid concerns growing over physical assault and other abuses among conscripted police officers, the National Police Agency launched a large-scale investigation last week.
During the two days of interviews, 365 junior policemen, about 8 percent of the total 4,581 officers surveyed nationwide, said they experienced beatings, bullying and sexual harassment in their barracks.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)