New defense minister puts his job on the line

By Joseph Yeh ,The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — New Defense Minister Andrew Yang (楊念祖) yesterday put his job on the line, pledging that similar events to the recent death of an Army corporal allegedly subjected to abusive punishment will not happen again. “I assure you that there will be no cases similar to the death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) in the future,” Yang told lawmakers during a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Yuan yesterday.

“If there are, I will take full responsibility and step down,” he added. Yang, a former deputy defense minister, was at the Legislature to brief lawmakers on Hung’s death. His presence at the legislative session came right after he assumed his new post earlier in the day. The 24-year-old Hung died of heatstroke on July 4, just days before the end of his compulsory yearlong military service.

His family later claimed that he was forced to undergo excessive physical exercise as part of his punishment for taking a camera-equipped cellphone onto base, and that the drills ultimately led to his death. A coroner’s report concluded that heatstroke connected to his treatment led to multiple organ failure which ultimately killed the corporal.

Hung’s death sparked public outrage, leading to 30,000 protestors holding a rally in front of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) on July 20 to demand an investigation.

To take responsibility over the incident, Yang’s predecessor Kao Hua-chu (高華柱) tendered his resignation earlier this week

On Wednesday, military prosecutors indicted 18 military personnel that could be responsible for Hung’s death.

The long list of indictments includes Hung’s superiors in his Army brigade and personnel that were responsible for monitoring his disciplinary confinement at a military facility in Taoyuan. Asked to comment on the indictment, Yang yesterday refuted accusations that military prosecutors only indicted those lower ranking officers that were responsible for monitoring Hung’s confinement instead of those higher-ranking ones, who had approved Hung’s confinement in the first place. “Actually, a one-star general and several other high-ranking officers have also been indicted over the incident,” Yang said. In response to calls to launch a new round of investigations after the Hung family presented new evidence earlier yesterday, Yang said he welcomed the Hung family to send the evidence to military prosecutors for further investigation.

New Evidence Hung’s older sister Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) yesterday played an audio recording of a conversation supposedly between one of the corporal’s superiors and Hung’s uncle on July 5. During their conversation, Hung’s uncle was told that Hung’s superior Chen Yi-jen (陳以人) brought cold drinks to a military hospital in late June as a bribe to speed up the physical evaluation of Hung, Hung Tzu-yung noted. The evaluation was a requirement before Hung could be placed in confinement. The new piece of evidence is contrary to military prosecutors’ Wednesday indictment which said prosecutors failed to find evidence supporting the accusation that Hung’s superior had performed such an action, Hung Tzu-yung added.