CNA

TAIPEI–The Defense Ministry did not tap the phones of the bereaved relatives of Army conscript Hung Chung-chiu, the ministry said Sunday, as President Ma Ying-jeou vowed to “severely punish” anyone caught eavesdropping without a warrant. Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Shou-he told CNA that the ministry had not authorized any such monitoring and will punish anyone in the military found doing so.

Hung, 24, died July 4, two days before his scheduled discharge from the military, of heatstroke complications that resulted from physical punishment. His death has sparked public outrage in Taiwan and mass protests demanding justice and reforms in the military.

Hung’s relatives have said they suspect that their phones have been tapped and have expressed fears about intimidation by the authorities.

His sister said July 30 that she has been hearing unusual echoes on her phone and has been experiencing abrupt disconnections.

Hung’s uncle also said he suspects that his phones and those of the family lawyers have been tapped. Furthermore, he said, he felt threatened by the police officers who have been showing up at his house.

At the soldier’s funeral Sunday in Taichung, Hung’s mother asked President Ma to protect her family from harassment and ensure their safety.

In response, Ma promised to look into the complaints and said that anyone found to have illegally tapped the family’s phones will be held accountable.

Corporal Hung died after being wrongfully thrown into a brig and made to do strenuous exercises in sweltering heat, as punishment for bringing a camera phone onto his base in violation of regulations.

The military has since admitted that Hung should not have received any physical punishment for the offense and that his superiors bypassed standard procedures to have him in the brig because they held a grudge against him. Eighteen Army officers have been indicted in the case, including the commander of Hung’s brigade, who has been released on bail and transferred to a new post.

The charges ranged from abuse leading to death, to imposing illegal punishment on a subordinate, and offenses against personal liberty, according to military prosecutors.

However, a military court has released four of the suspects on bail, a controversial decision that fueled greater public anger over the incident.

Following a big protest on July 20, an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets of Taipei Saturday, calling for transparency, justice and military reforms. Organizers put their estimated turnout at 250,000. In response to the protest, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said at a hastily called press conference on Saturday night that the Cabinet is seeking to amend the Military Service Act to give civil courts the power to hear military cases involving illegal punishment, abuse and illegal blocking of complaints.