Written by: Sherry Yu
July 13th, 2013, the death of a young army conscript, Hung Chung-chiu, generated outrage across Taiwan. He was sent to military detention for bringing a mobile phone with built in camera, after days of confinement and harsh punishment he was found weak and his body came overheat and died from organ failure afterwards. Hung’s death triggered the anger of the public, and the missing evidence and unreasonable military prosecution service system brought the Taiwanese people out on the street, urging for reasonable explanation and asking for further reformation. Finally, Legislation Yuan passed the third read of an amendment to the law governing punishment measures in Taiwan’s military in better protection of human rights.
II. The death of Hung Chung-Chiu
Hung Chung-Chiu (8 Sep 1989 – 4 Jul 2013) was a 24-year-old army conscript served in 542nd Armor Brigade in Hsinchu. He graduated from National Cheng Kung University majoring in Transportation and Communication Management Science. Hung chose to serve his conscription as a priority despite that he was accepted to the master’s program in said department.
Less than two weeks before his discharge date, Hung was found bringing a mobile phone with built-in camera, which disobeyed the rules in the army. He was sent to military detention at a Yangmei base. During his detention, Hung experienced days of confinement and was ordered to perform tough exercise without having proper health care. In suffer of a heatstroke Hung was hospitalized on 3 July and transferred from Ten-Chen Medical Hospital Hung to Tri-Service General Hospital as his health condition got worse.
According to the report released by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry, in Hung’s case, only administrative punishments should have been given. Also, no physical drills under the heat and humidity were allowed in military detention punishment that Hung experienced. Moreover, the unusual process of approving the medical and psychological report on Hung before sending him to detention was worth questioning. Normally it takes a week to complete, but in Hung’s case it was expedited within half a day.
Another question raised during investigation is that a Taiwanese media Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) recorded that when Hung fell into coma, the ambulance traveled at an unusually slow speed and delayed the treatment. However, several witnesses that spoke to the media in the record of CCTV claimed to be threatened by unknown sources.
The death of Hung Chung-Chiu has sparked the anger of Taiwanese people, and led to tens of thousands of people protest in Taipei in the name of seeking justice. The protest was taken place at Ketagalan Boulevard on the eve of Hung’s funeral, and those people in white were singing a Taiwanese version of the revolutionary song Do You Hear the People Sing? They demanded that the military ministry had the responsibility to reveal the truth about Hung’s death and that the legislation should re-examine the human rights protection in Code of Court Martial Procedure.
III. The regulation of Taiwanese military prosecution service
Before the incident
Before Aug 13th, 2013, any military personnel on active duty who committed crimes of Criminal Code of the Armed Forces or special codes concerned should be subject to prosecution and punishment under these codes whether the country is confronting a war or not. (Art.1, Code of Court Martial Procedure) The military prosecution system was controlled by Defense Department for tens of years, but its legitimacy had been questioned as Taiwan gradually transferred to a country under the rule of law.
According to the concept of “separation of power”, which is the foundation of law-ruled countries, any one branch of government should not exercise the core functions of another. In another words, Administrative Yuan shall not take control of judicial power. The Constitution of Republic of China implicitly delivers the concept of separation of power in its articles and the justice of the constitutional court, for example, in art.77 “The Judicial Yuan shall be the highest judicial organ of the State and shall have charge of civil, criminal, and administrative cases, and over cases concerning disciplinary measures against public functionaries.” Hence, the article 1 of Criminal Code of the Armed Forces before revision could be undoubtedly claimed “unconstitutional”.
Reform made after the incident
The amendment passed after the death of Hung Chung-Chiu including the article 1, 34, 237. The major revise in this amendment was to transfer jurisdiction of most criminal cases involving servicemen in peacetime to civilian courts. Article 1 of Criminal Code of the Armed Forces was amended as “Any military personnel on active duty who commits crimes of Criminal Code of the Armed Forces or special codes concerned shall be subject to prosecution and punishment under these codes at war time. Any military personnel on active duty who commits the following crimes shall be subject to prosecution and punishment under the Code of Criminal Procedure while not at war time…”
i. My Comment
The death of Hung Chung-Chiu was indeed a tragedy in a wrongful judicial system, but its influence also led to the re-examination of the legitimacy of military court. The revision of Criminal Code of the Armed Forces could at the same time be seen as a milestone of the young democracy, for those who went on the street in the protest were mainly the young generation. From the incident we can conclude that: To finally become a mature country rule by law, Taiwan still has its long path to go through.