South Korean military member arrested over suspected sexual abuse

SEOUL (REUTERS) - A member of the South Korean air force has been arrested on charges of sexually harassing and injuring a female colleague, which led to her taking her own life, the defence ministry said on Thursday (June 3).

The master sergeant, only identified by his surname Jang, is suspected of molesting the woman of the same rank in a car on their way back to their base in the western city of Seosan in March after a dinner.

The victim, identified by her surname Lee, had suffered mental distress and transferred to another base at her request two months after the incident, her family said in a petition to the president over the case.

She was found dead at her home on the base on May 22, leaving a video on her mobile phone of her death, the family said.

A military court approved Jang's arrest on Wednesday on charges of violating the Criminal Act by committing indecent acts by compulsion on a member of the military and causing injury.

"He is detained after a hearing and an investigation is under way," ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.

The spokesman gave no more details about the case and did not say if the man had legal representation. Jang did not respond to reporters' questions as he was escorted to the military court on Wednesday, the Yonhap news agency reported.

The case has triggered a public uproar since the woman's family filed a petition with the presidential Blue House on Tuesday calling for a thorough investigation and punishment for those involved. More than 318,000 members of the public had signed the petition as of Thursday morning.

The woman's family has accused the air force of trying to cover up the assault on the woman and to silence her.

The air force "deeply acknowledged the gravity of the situation", a spokesman for the force, Choi Yoon-seok, said. He declined to comment on the family's accusations, citing the investigation.

President Moon Jae-in ordered an investigation to include how officials in charge handled the case, and he called for measures to prevent any further stigmatisation of Lee and her family, his spokeswoman said.

The problem of sexual abuse in South Korea was thrown into the spotlight by the global #MeToo movement and several high-profile figures from various walks of life have been accused of sexual harassment and assault.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.