Asia

Soldiers jailed over South Korea bullying death

South Korean soldiers participate in an anti-chemical and anti-biological terror drill on November 18, 2013 in Seoul, South Korea Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Military conscription is compulsory in South Korea for males who are able bodied between 18-35

A military court in South Korea has given prison sentences ranging from 25 to 45 years to four soldiers involved in the death of a junior soldier.

Private Yoon Seung-joo, 23, died in April after being beaten and denied food and sleep.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for a sergeant accused of being the main offender.

The case caused anger over the treatment of conscripts and led to the resignation of the army chief of staff.

The army said Private Yoon died after being hit in the chest by six men while eating a snack. The attack caused a piece of food to obstruct his airway leading to asphyxiation, it said.

He was also repeatedly beaten in the month before his death.

The judge, quoted by Yonhap news agency, said "no signs of remorse" had been found, as the behaviour of the group became "brutal as time went by, and they even tried to conceal their wrongdoing".

Two others were charged with assault.

After the verdict, the victim's relatives reacted angrily to the fact that the most serious verdict of murder was not given to any of those involved.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Defence Minister Han Min-koo (left) made an apology for the death of private Yoon
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The case has caused an outcry over the culture of bullying in the army

A panel of three military judges sentenced the sergeant, thought to have led the attack, surnamed Lee, to 45 years in prison.

Another sergeant, surnamed Ha, was given 30 years in prison; two corporals received 25 years; a staff sergeant 15 years, and a private was given three months.

"It is inevitable to hand them down severe punishments as what they had done constitutes an act similar to homicide," the judge said when delivering the verdict.

The case is among a series of incidents that have highlighted problems of bullying in the military in South Korea, which has conscription under which all young men must serve about two years.

In June, a sergeant who said he had been bullied, turned his weapon on his fellow soldiers at a border outpost near North Korea, killing five of them.

There have also been a series of suicides in recent months involving young conscripts.

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