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18 indicted over death of young Taiwan conscript

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou bows to express his apologies to the family of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu who died in early July after being forced to perform a vigorous regime of calisthenics in sweltering heat on his base, on Wednesday, July 24
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou bows to express his apologies to the family of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu who died in early July after being forced to perform a vigorous regime of calisthenics in sweltering heat on his base, on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Taipei, Taiwan. The death of the 24-year-old soldier has set off a wave of anger on the democratic island of 23 million people, further undermining the already unpopular administration of President Ma, and raising hard questions about the future of the island’s military. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
In this image taken on July 20, 2013, in Taipei, Taiwan, protesters hold posters that read "Give the truth" next to portraits of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu who died in early July after being forced to perform a vigorous regime of calisthenics in
In this image taken on July 20, 2013, in Taipei, Taiwan, protesters hold posters that read "Give the truth" next to portraits of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu who died in early July after being forced to perform a vigorous regime of calisthenics in sweltering heat on a base in suburban Taipei. The death of the 24-year-old soldier has set off a wave of anger on the democratic island of 23 million people, further undermining the already unpopular administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, and raising hard questions about the future of the island’s military. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
In this photo taken on July 17, 2013, Hu Su-tseng, the mother of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu, who died after strenuous calisthenics on a base in suburban Taipei, wipes away her tears next to his portrait during a press conference at the legislatur
In this photo taken on July 17, 2013, Hu Su-tseng, the mother of Taiwan soldier Hung Chung-chiu, who died after strenuous calisthenics on a base in suburban Taipei, wipes away her tears next to his portrait during a press conference at the legislature in Taipei, Taiwan. The death of the 24-year-old soldier has set off a wave of anger on the democratic island of 23 million people, further undermining the already unpopular administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, and raising hard questions about the future of the island’s military. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
In this picture taken on July 17, 2013, mother of Hung Chung-chiu speaks next to his portrait during a press conference at parliament in Taipei after Hung, 24, was found by a post-mortem examination to have died of heatstroke, which according to loca
In this picture taken on July 17, 2013, mother of Hung Chung-chiu speaks next to his portrait during a press conference at parliament in Taipei after Hung, 24, was found by a post-mortem examination to have died of heatstroke, which according to local media, his family believe was brought on by excessive exercise forced upon him as punishment for taking a smart phone onto an army base. Anger over the death of a corporal who was allegedly abused by his officers has dealt a blow to Taiwan's plans to end conscription which have already been hit by low recruitment. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Taiwan's chief military prosecutor, General Tsao Chin-sheng, speaks during a press conference in Taipei on July 31, 2013. Taiwan's prosecutors indicted 18 military officials in the death of a young conscript from alleged abuse that has sparked public
Taiwan's chief military prosecutor, General Tsao Chin-sheng, speaks during a press conference in Taipei on July 31, 2013. Taiwan's prosecutors indicted 18 military officials in the death of a young conscript from alleged abuse that has sparked public outrage and cost the defence minister his job. Corporal Hung Chung-chiu died of heatstroke on July 4, just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service, a death his family says was do to excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his army base. -- PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwanese prosecutors indicted 18 military officials on Wednesday over the death of a young conscript who had been subjected to "cruel and abusive" punishment, in an incident that has sparked widespread anger.

Corporal Hung Chung-chiu died of heatstroke on July 4, just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

His family said he was forced to do excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base.

Chief military prosecutor general Tsao Chin-sheng said the 24-year-old suffered from heatstroke after being subjected to "exercises that were unbearable, cruel and abusive" that resulted in his death from multiple organ failure.

"I am sorry that the case caused public anger and shook confidence in the military. Our only goal is to find the truth, to give the public an answer and hope Chung-chiu can rest in peace," Mr Tsao said.

Among those indicted was Chen Yi-hsun, who oversaw corporal Hung's punishment while in solitary confinement. He was charged with abuse that led to the conscript's death by imposing excessive exercise on him.

Major General Shen Wei-chih, the former commander of the brigade, deputy commander Ho Chiang-chung and four others were charged with "collectively imposing illegal punishment on a subordinate" and offences against personal liberty.

Ten other officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for not noticing that the conscript's health was failing and not taking necessary measures during his time in solitary confinement to prevent his death.

One official was charged with transferring him to solitary confinement without authorisation.

Prosecutors did not specify what jail terms they were seeking. Legal experts say the most severe charge is of abuse leading to death, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

The conscript's family have said he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by his superiors.

Defence Minister Kao Hua-chu stepped down this week after the case triggered demonstrations outside the defence ministry and other allegations of abuse and misconduct in the military.

Both him and President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings have plummeted in recent months, have apologised for the incident, vowing to investigate the case and punish those responsible.