The Army conscript, surnamed Yoon, died on April 7 after six colleagues allegedly hit him in the chest while eating dumplings at the 28th Division in Yeoncheon, just south of the inter-Korean border.
The case, which only became known to the public last week upon disclosure by a human rights NGO, occurred just two months before a bullied sergeant went on a deadly shooting spree in June. Last month, two Army privates, both under special observation for concerns over their mental health, were found dead after apparent suicides.
|This photo released Monday by KBS shows an Army solider reenacting his assault in April on a fellow soldier. (Yonhap)|
The tragic incidents are sparking public outrage here against the military for failing to ensure the safety of its troops. Military service is one of the four constitutional duties for all male citizens in Korea, along with taxes, education and labor.
“I have felt grateful to the Army for what they do,” said a 27-year-old female health care worker surnamed Paik. “But after learning about what happened to soldier Yoon, I am not sure anymore.
“I don’t know what to think of Yoon’s colleagues. Are they soldiers who work for the security of this country or are they just cruel bullies who abuse their physical power?” she added. “I am not sure if I want a child, but if I do end up having a son, I don’t know if I’d be able to sleep at night once he goes off to serve his military duty. Who knows what would happen to him?”
Yoon, who died of asphyxiation when a piece of food blocked his airway, had been physically and verbally abused by his colleagues for more than a month. The Army bullies allegedly forced the 23-year-old to swallow a tube of toothpaste, lick their spit while he lay flat on the floor, and even subjected him to sessions of water-boarding. They are also accused of sexually molesting Yoon.
The case also triggered local netizens to demand public broadcaster MBC to stop producing its popular military-themed television show “Real Men.” They claim the comical variety show, which features eight male celebrities as they experience life in the military, idealizes the Army in a misleading way.
“Think about the parents of the soldiers who died,” wrote a netizen surnamed Lee on the TV show’s website. “What would it be like to see a TV show like this, where celebrities promote the military? Their children died in the military.”
While military service is mandatory for every male citizen in Korea, children of senior government officials often obtain foreign citizenship to evade military service. Last year, it was revealed that sons of 16 high-ranking public officials gave up their South Korean citizenship in an apparent attempt to avoid serving in the military.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)