TAIPEI — A bill to enact Military Justice Act revisions is likely to be passed during a special legislative session this week, in the wake of a public protest calling for reforms in the country’s court-martial system, an influential legislator said Sunday.
Lin Hung-chih, chief caucus whip of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), said he hopes the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) will agree to screen the bill during an extraordinary legislative session from July 29 to Aug. 9, in order to answer the people’s call for military law reforms.
If the legislative caucuses of the ruling and opposition parties can reach a consensus on the bill Aug. 5, chances are it will be passed this week and will be applied in the investigation into the death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, he said.
Lin’s remarks came after tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday, demanding further investigation into Hung’s death at an army barracks and calling on the government to protect human rights in the military.
In response, the Cabinet said late Saturday that it will push for legal amendments to the court-martial system to pave the way for civilian prosecutors to investigate certain cases involving military servicemen during peace time, such as the abuse of subordinates and illegal punishment.
But the proposal was criticized Sunday by the DPP, which said reforms to the military justice system should be completed in one step rather than in phases.
It is not known whether the bill will be held up by the current standoff at the Legislative Yuan over a vote related to Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant.
DPP members have occupied the legislative chamber and the podium since August 1 as a way to block the vote which, if approved, would allow a referendum to be held to decide the fate of the nuclear power project. Military legal reforms took on new urgency amid widespread public outrage over possible abuse of power and disregard for human rights in the military, after the death of 24-year-old Hung just two days before his discharge.
Hung died of severe heatstroke while doing strenuous exercise on his sixth day in a brig. He was wrongfully given the punishment for bringing a camera phone onto his base allegedly because his superiors held a grudge against him.
The Ministry of National Defense has admitted that the corporal should not have been thrown into the brig for the offense.
Furthermore, the soldier should not have been put through strenuous drills because he was clearly overweight and it is against Army regulations to carry out such drills in conditions of extreme heat, the ministry said.