The brutal killing of a stray dog by soldiers has sparked an uproar in Taiwan, forcing the defence minister to issue multiple public apologies and President Tsai Ing-wen to express concern in the midst of her first official overseas trip.
The furore erupted last weekend after Kaohsiung City Councillor Chen Hsin-yu posted a 80-second video on YouTube showing a white dog being beaten, dragged, then strangled to death, allegedly by soldiers based in Kaohsiung, Central News Agency reported late on Monday (June 28).
The dog is shown in the clip perched precariously on what appears to be the edge of an embankment with a metal chain around its neck, the report said.
It dies after a painful struggle in which it tried, but failed, to climb up the embankment. A man, whose face was not shown on camera, is heard saying, "Xiao Bai (Little White), don't be a stupid dog in your next life."
After learning about the incident, Ms Tsai, who was in Panama, condemned the "cruel" act and instructed the defence ministry and other government agencies to "handle the matter properly", Central News Agency reported.
Defence Minister Feng Shih-kuan expressed anger and regret over the incident and apologised to the public in a statement issued on Monday night. He was forced to make another public apology on Tuesday after scores of animal welfare activists staged a protest outside the ministry.
Some 72,000 people had reacted to the video reposted on the Facebook page of a popular whistle-blowing website as of Tuesday. "Taxpayers' money is used to feed such beasts who are worse than animals," fumed a commentor by the name of Chen Tzu-ching.
The ministry announced on Monday it had disciplined three Navy personnel and their superiors over the dog's killing. Sergeant Chen Yu-tsai, who allegedly ordered the killing, was given a major demerit, removed from his post and handed over to law enforcement authorities, Navy Command Headquarters spokesman Tsai Hung-tu told a press conference.
Similar penalties were meted out to the soldier, Chang Feng-yu, who allegedly carried out the killing, while the third accomplice, Hu Chia-wei, was sentenced to a 10-day detention at base, Tsai said.
But public anger showed no signs of abating on Tuesday. Scores of animal welfare activists staged a protest outside the defence ministry in the afternoon, carrying placards with the phrases like "Extreme cruelty" and "Utmost outrage" and calling for heavier sentences for the culprits.
Mr Feng was forced to meet the protesters twice in an attempt to defuse the situation.
"The dog shouldn't have been treated like dirt just because it's a stray dog," he said, surrounding by the protestors and journalists. "I'm a Buddhist, I believe in karma...I believe it's in a better place now," he added.
The minister then asked the public to give the army time to improve, before bowing deeply.
Amid the outpouring of anger, some have questioned whether the reaction had grown out of proportion.
A page that purported to organise a street march outside the Presidential Palace against the killing of Xiao Bai drew 180,000 would-be participants, United Daily News reported.
But the page has been taken down by Tuesday, with the organiser saying that it was merely a satirical gesture to mock "excessive sensationalism" he said was rampant in Taiwanese society, the report said.