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(2nd LD) Prosecutors seek 15-year prison term for airman over death of sexual harassment victim

Defense 16:01 October 08, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS bereaved family's response in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Yonhap) -- Military prosecutors on Friday sought a 15-year prison sentence for a noncommissioned Air Force officer for the alleged sexual abuse of a female colleague that led to her death by suicide, officials said.

The master sergeant, surnamed Jang, is suspected of sexually harassing the victim of the same rank inside a car on their way back to their base in the western city of Seosan after a private gathering in March. Following the military's poor initial responses to the case, she took her own life in May.

During the first court hearing on the case against Jang, the military prosecutors requested the General Military Court in Seoul sentence him to 15 years behind bars, according to the officials.

This photo, taken Oct. 7, 2021, shows the father of a deceased Air Force noncommissioned officer touching a picture of his daughter set up at the memorial altar in a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul. She took her own life in May after being sexually harassed by a colleague. (Yonhap)

"She joined the military, which was her lifetime dream, and was to lead a happy married life. Due to the lasting trauma, however, she ended up killing herself. His wrongdoing caused the irreversible, serious outcomes, but he has never made sincere apologies," a prosecutor said during the hearing.

Following the sexual abuse, she took two months off and then was granted a transfer to another unit. Days later, she registered a marriage to her fiance, but took her own life the following day.

Jang is also suspected of threatening her not to report the case to the authorities. After the alleged sexual harassment, he followed the victim and asked in a menacing way if she was going to report the case to authorities. He also allegedly sent a threatening text message, "I've been thinking of killing myself all day long," according to the investigation.

The prosecutor also said that the suspect harmed the reputation of all service members and dampened the military's efforts to root out sex crimes at barracks, calling for "stern punishment to prevent any recurrence."

The case sparked an intense public fury, particularly as the Air Force failed to take appropriate steps to protect the victim and to actively pursue an investigation. The defense ministry took over the case from the military following her suicide death.

Then-Air Force Chief of Staff Lee Seong-yong stepped down, holding himself responsible for the incident, in June, and the National Assembly approved a revision of the military justice system in August that calls for military sex crimes to be tried in civilian courts, not in a court-martial.

Wrapping up a monthslong probe, military prosecutors indicted 15 people for alleged irregularities regarding the case. They also demanded the defense ministry take disciplinary measures against 38 military officials, including those facing trials.

The bereaved family once again lodged a strong protest over the probe results, claiming that the military leadership has tried to get away with its wrongdoings by simply passing the buck to the suspect.

"The president should take responsibility. The defense minister should take responsibility. All the members of the military police and prosecution must come under probe for poor investigations, and a special counsel investigation should be launched," the father of the deceased service member told reporters.

An Air Force officer is taken to a military court in Seoul on June 2, 2021, to attend a hearing to review whether an arrest warrant will be issued over his alleged sexual harassment of a female colleague, which caused her to take her own life in May, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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