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Watchdogs condemn military trial of gay soldiers as outrageous witch-hunt

By Park Sae-jin Posted : May 24, 2017, 16:28 Updated : May 24, 2017, 16:28

[Photo by Park Sae-jin ]

A South Korean army captain was given a suspended jail sentence at a military trial Wednesday for having sex with a male soldier, Amnesty International said, calling it an "outrageous military gay witch-hunt".

The captain was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for a year, for having a same-sex relationship at a private place under consent, according to Amnesty and the Military Human Rights Center for Korea (MHRCK), a Seoul-based civilian group.

"It is a bizarre clause that only has a perpetrator, without a victim," MHRCK said in a statement.

The soldier was charged under the military law that prohibits military personnel from engaging in "same-sex consensual sexual activity", Amnesty said, urging South Korea's military to end "a bigoted hunt to root out gay personnel". The conviction raises fears that dozens of other soldiers will face a similar fate, the London-based watchdog said.

"This unjust conviction should be immediately overturned. No-one should be persecuted based on their sexual orientation, activity or gender identity alone. What counts is their service not their sexuality," Amnesty's East Asia Research Director Roseann Rife said in a statement.

"It is long overdue for South Korea to repeal this archaic and discriminatory provision in the military criminal code, and get up-to-date when it comes to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people," said Rife.

Sexual minorities are still a social taboo in South Korea, a conservative country where many gay and transgender people keep their sexuality under wraps. Public images of homosexuals and transgender people have gained general acceptance selectively in the entertainment scene.

In April, MHRCK demanded the resignation of South Korea's army chief for ordering an illegal probe to identify and punish gay soldiers. Homosexuality is not illegal, but at military camps, it can be punished as sexual molestation under the military criminal act.

Army investigators have identified and investigated up to 50 gay soldiers in February and March, the group said. Military authorities insisted the army chief did not issue such an order.

Rife said that President Moon Jae-in should send an "unequivocal" message that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity will not be tolerated.

Lim Chang-won = cwlim34@ajunews.com

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