Protesters surround Taiwan defense ministry to demand justice for corporal

Military agrees to involvement civilian prosecutors: Reports

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Thousands of mostly young protesters dressed in white surrounded the Ministry of National Defense Saturday to demand justice for the dead corporal Hung Chung-chiu.
The 24-year-old conscript died in early July just days before he was to end his compulsory military service. He officially died of heat stroke after undergoing strenuous exercises and disciplinary confinement for allegedly having brought a camera phone into his base. A fourth Army officer was detained Saturday as military prosecutors investigate the responsibility for the death.
An estimated 30,000 students, parents and teachers gathered outside the defense ministry building behind the Presidential Office Saturday morning in what was described as the largest military-related protest in Taiwan history. They demanded the ministry reveal the full truth about Hung’s death and punish those responsible.
Protesters marched like soldiers and sang military songs with adapted lyrics criticizing the suspects “in order to wake up the defense minister.” A song about heroes became an attack on “fat cats and thugs” instead. The protesters were wearing white T-shirts in a reference to a Mandarin Chinese expression using the color to mean bringing the truth into the open.
Drinking water also became a gesture of protest as the latest detainee in the scandal, Chen Yi-hsun, reportedly refused to let Hung drink as he was falling ill before dying. The officer could face life in prison for mistreating Hung with death as a result, reports said. His sentence could be tougher than those for the three other officers in detention because he personally dealt with the disciplined corporal, military prosecutors said. A fifth suspect, Lee Nien-tsu, was facing questioning Saturday.
The protesters demanded an independent third party should be allowed to help out with conducting the investigation while all evidence should be handed over to prosecutors for safekeeping.
The MND reportedly agreed to the protesters’ demand to allow the civilian prosecutors’ office to act as a third party in the investigation. In later comments, President Ma Ying-jeou said however that according to the law, the military prosecutors were in charge of the case, though civilian prosecutors could provide assistance.
There should also be a more concerted effort for reform within the military moving up from the grassroots, the protesters said. The organizers named themselves ‘Citizen 1985’ after the number for the military assistance hotline, which they also wanted reformed to become more effective.
Vice Defense Minister Andrew Yang arrived at the scene one hour after the start of the protest and apologized to the crowds. He also accepted a list of their demands and grievances. According to media reports, he discussed how to handle the Hung investigation with former students of his who visited him Friday evening.
Hung’s uncle appeared in the crowd carrying a white rose, while author Giddens and opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang, lawmakers Wu Ping-jui, Tsai Huang-liang and Huang Wei-cher also participated, reports said. A former colleague of Hung said he was representing the conscripts who were banned from coming to the event.
The protesters held a candle vigil outside the Legislative Yuan in the evening to commemorate all victims of the lack of human rights in the military. The corporal’s sister, Hung Tsu-yung, was expected to appear at the event. More than a thousand students held a vigil at Hung’s alma mater, National Cheng Kung University in Tainan.
For the first time since the scandal broke, President Ma visited Hung’s parents in the Houli district of Taichung Saturday afternoon. They complained to the president about the slow progress of the investigation 16 days after their son’s death and about the lack of information they were receiving from the military.
Hung’s mother reportedly said the president was only visiting when her tears were already dry and she had nothing left to say. Ma promised that the authorities would handle the case quickly, severely punish those responsible and be generous with compensation.
Top military prosecutor Tsao Chin-sheng said later that relatives could be allowed to attend hearings. Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu paid the Hung family a visit during the morning.
There have been contradictory allegations of missing or erased video recordings. On Friday reports said that 80 minutes of erased footage had been restored by technical experts at the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB), but Saturday media reported that blank screens were all that they had been found. The 16 cameras at the site of Hung’s disciplinary confinement at a base in Taoyuan County had all failed to work simultaneously but there was no sign of human interference, reports said.
Military prosecutors reportedly raided the home of one of the detained suspects, Staff Sergeant Fan Tso-hsien, Saturday afternoon and took in his father for questioning. Fan has been accused in the media of running all kinds of private side businesses. His fear that Hung would reveal his schemes could have been the motivation for his punishment of the corporal, reports said.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party said it would file a motion to set up a special investigation commission at the Legislative Yuan. Ruling Kuomintang lawmaker Lin Yu-fang said the ball was in the defense ministry’s court, but it could request the assistance of the MJIB or civil organizations to allay fears of a bureaucratic cover-up.