Thousands in Taiwan protest conscript’s death

AFP-JIJI

More than 100,000 Taiwanese people took to the streets Saturday in protest over the death of a young conscript who was allegedly abused in the military.

Singing a Taiwanese take on the revolutionary song “Do you hear the people sing?” from the hit musical “Les Miserables”, protesters rallied at a square near the presidential office in Taipei, mostly dressed in white — a color symbolizing truth in local culture.

It was the second mass protest since Cpl. Hung Chung-chiu died of heatstroke on July 4 — apparently after being forced to exercise excessively as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base — just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

About 30,000 people demonstrated outside the Defense Ministry in the capital on July 20, according to Citizen 1985, an activist group that organized the protests.

“We estimate a bigger turnout today on the eve of Hung’s funeral than the previous protest. We hope the government will hear the people’s anger at its handling of the case,” Liu Lin-wei, a spokesman for the group, said.

“I want to thank everyone for your efforts and I hope we can have truth and justice for Chung-chiu with all your help,” Hung’s mother told the crowd.

Organizers claimed 200,000 people joined the protest, while the government’s estimate of the crowd size was 100,000.

“I am mourning for Hung Chung-chiu and I want the truth. I hope there won’t be any more abuse and death like his in the military,” said protester Jenny Tan.

President Ma Ying-jeou has apologized for the incident and vowed to seek justice for the victim and punish those responsible.

“The Cabinet has requested the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry to spare no effort to investigate the case and review the current system to prevent any unhumanitarian actions and abuse of power,” Premier Jiang Yi-huah told reporters.

He also promised to meet the activist group’s demands to set up a committee to probe military wrongful imprisonment cases and to review the military tribunal system.

Amid mounting public anger, Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu stepped down last week, while 18 military officials have been charged over Hung’s death, including the former commander of his brigade.