South Korean prosecutors charge 4 soldiers with homicide over hazing death of young conscript

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Military prosecutors have charged four soldiers with homicide over the hazing death of a young army conscript in April, South Korea's Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The soldiers were previously charged with manslaughter, but prosecutors decided on a more serious homicide charge after concluding that the four likely knew the 21-year-old victim, private first-class Yoon Seung-ju, could die. If convicted, the accused face a minimum of five years in prison and potentially life imprisonment or the death penalty, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

According to prosecutors, the suspects regularly bullied the victim for about a month. They allegedly struck him in the chest and forced him to swallow a chunk of food that clogged his airway before he collapsed.

Bullying and hazing are serious problems in South Korea's military. Service is mandatory for all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35.

In June, five died after a shooting rampage at an army unit close to the North Korean border. The sergeant charged with the shooting spree said he opened fire on his colleagues after being bullied for an extended period.