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May 28, 2017

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Military overcorrects again in confinement reform row

Over the past few months, Taiwan's military has been launching a series of reforms in the wake of the controversial death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) last July.

Hung, 24, was thrown into the military brig in late June 2013 and was forced to perform grueling exercises in hot weather before he collapsed on July 3. He died a day later of multiple organ failure caused by heatstroke.

The Ministry of National Defense's (MND) probes later revealed administrative errors in the Army's processing of Hung's confinement.

The incident has drawn public outrage over the military's poor handling of the case, forcing the military to apologize and promise to launch reforms to improve human rights in the military.

As part of the reform, the MND announced last month that it would soon scrap the physical training portion of disciplinary confinement for military personnel to prevent similar tragedies like Hung's from happening again.

In the future, all military personnel sent for disciplinary confinement at military confinement centers won't need to undergo these physical training sessions, and instead they will attend lectures on obeying military discipline and will also receive counseling services.

The MND said it "now sees disciplinary confinement not as a form of punishment but as an opportunity to teach violators a lesson."

The announcement, however, immediately drew harsh criticism from lawmakers and local media.

They accused the latest policy of being "ridiculous" because it would make the lives of those military personnel who are being punished in disciplinary confinement centers more comfortable than the lives of their counterparts that are diligently performing their duties.

Some even argue that soldiers could confess to doing something they did not do just to be thrown into the brig to avoid the tedious daily routines during service that includes standing guard and doing all kinds of tiresome physical exercises and training.

In response to the criticism, the MND made a major about-face only one day after they announced the proposed reform. The military stressed that the announcement made a day earlier was "a slip of the tongue" made by an MND official.

The physical training portion will continue to stay in place during disciplinary confinement, but it will be conducted in a "reasonable fashion," the MND said.

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