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Soldier in critical condition after suicide attempt following ‘bullying by superiors'

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 12, 2023 - 16:09

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A 21-year-old man doing his compulsory military service remains unconscious for the sixth day since his suicide attempt on Sunday, which his family claimed was triggered by bullying from his superiors in the military.

The victim reportedly attempted to take his own life around 12:15 a.m. at a South Korean Air Force base located in Paju City, Gyeonggi Province, after which he was found by fellow soldiers and moved to a nearby hospital. He has been in intensive care since.

The initial investigation by the Air Force claimed that the soldier’s act was caused by “stress over school and pressure from family members,” but the family said it was the tormenting by his superiors in the barracks that caused the incident.

His uncle alleged that other soldiers higher up in the chain of command had been picking on the victim -- a private first class -- since last month, complaining that he took leave to see his visiting family despite being only a private. He even got medication for anxiety, which he told the officers was for stress related to university.

The South Korean Air Force's Black Eagle aerobatics team performs in this April 23 file photo. This photo is not directly related to the article. (Yonhap) The South Korean Air Force's Black Eagle aerobatics team performs in this April 23 file photo. This photo is not directly related to the article. (Yonhap)

 

The uncle said that the private had no history of mental health issues prior to his enlistment, saying that the problems must have emerged while he was living in the barracks. He pointed out that the soldier had no problems with his family members or friends during his leave between April 25 and May 4.

The private had reportedly told his friends and girlfriend about the alleged bullying.

However, the Air Force claimed that there is no evidence to substantiate the bullying allegations as of now, and that it is still investigating the matter.

The bullying of conscripted soldiers is a sensitive issue in South Korea, which mandates all able-bodied male citizens to serve in the military for at least 18 months. Despite social awareness of the problem, evidence indicates that many such soldiers are still subject to abuse.

In February this year, the Army received a report that a noncommissioned officer tortured a soldier by drilling his arm with an electric drill, causing injury. The soldier first reported the case to the head of his platoon, and when, according to the victim, the accuser did not get due punishment, he reported it to the Ministry of National Defense. This case is being investigated by the Korea Military Police.

A 2021 survey by local pollster Global Research on men in their 20s and 30s, commissioned by Rep. Lee Soo-jin of the Democratic Party of Korea, showed that 59.8 percent of the respondents were subject to some form of abuse or cruel treatment during their compulsory military service. Of those, 72 percent said the perpetrators of the abuse had not been sufficiently punished.

Lee said that the military’s efforts alone are not enough to address the human rights violations that are occurring inside the barracks, stressing the need for outside intervention.

“A law revision is necessary to allow systematic intervention in cases of human rights violations. That will enable there to be a position at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea directed towards protecting human rights within the military, that has the right to investigate human rights cases there and inspect the barracks without warning,” she said.

According to Article 62 of the Military Criminal Act, those who exploit their official authority to abuse or cruelly treat another person can be punished with a sentence of imprisonment and hard labor of up to five years.