Taiwan jails 13 military officials over conscript's death

TAIPEI(AFP) - A Taiwanese court on Friday sentenced 13 military officials to up to eight months in prison over the death of a young conscript last year that sparked widespread anger.

The Taoyuan district court in northern Taiwan also cleared five officials of any wrongdoing in the death of Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, citing insufficient evidence.

Corporal Hung, 24, died of heatstroke on July 4, just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

His death triggered massive street protests and brought down the then defence minister.

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

Prosecutors had said that he was subjected to "cruel and abusive" exercises when indicting the 18 military officials over his death.

The heaviest sentence went to his former Company Commander Hsu Hsin-cheng, who received an eight-month jail term also for abusing his authority to confine the young conscript, the court said in a statement.

Staff Sergeant Chen Yi-hsun, who oversaw Corporal Hung's punishment while in solitary confinement, received a six-month jail term on abuse charges, while five defendants were found guilty of charges of death caused by professional negligence and each received five to six months' imprisonment, the court said.

Major General Shen Wei-chih, the former commander of Hung's brigade, deputy commander Ho Chiang-chung and four others were sentenced to six months in prison on charges of abuse of authority to confine Corporal Hung, it added.

Corporal Hung's family protested at the perceived light punishment, as the accused were not convicted of more serious charges such as death resulting from abuse of a subordinate, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

"We want to voice our disapproval. The government and the defence ministry is black-hearted and this is a dark day in justice. The verdict is unacceptable," Corporal Hung's uncle Hu Shih-ho told reporters while giving the thumbs-down sign, as some supporters shouted "unfair justice" at the courthouse.

Corporal Hung's family have said that he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by his superiors.

His death dealt a blow to the defence ministry's plan to end conscription, which was already hit by low recruitment.