In a case that could stir up social debate and controversy, a civilian military human rights watchdog demanded the resignation of South Korea's army chief for ordering an illegal probe to identify and punish gay soldiers.
The Military Human Rights Center for Korea (MHRCK), based in Seoul, accused Arm Chief of Staff Jang Jun-kyu of treating gay soldiers "as if they were culprits and made them suffer from one of the most horrible fear".
Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea, a conservative country where many gay and transgender people keep their sexuality under wraps. At military barracks, it can be regarded and punished as sexual molestation under a controversial clause in the military criminal act.
Despite denial by Jang's office, the center insisted it has received an allegation about Jang's order for "gay military personnel and criminal punishment" by the military criminal act's sexual molestation provision.
The Army Investigation Command is now "accelerating its track-down process," it said in an English statement, adding army investigators have identified and investigated up to 50 gay soldiers in February and March with one of them actually arrested on Thursday.
"Without any evidence of sexual intercourse, the investigators spied through gay dating apps and chose the soldiers as the target of the investigation," an MHRCK official told reporters. "Opening an investigation simply based on the gender identity of soldiers is an act of discrimination and a violation of human rights."
The army rejected the watchdog's accusations, saying Jang did not issue such an order. There was a video uploaded onto social media showing gay soldiers having sex, prompting an investigation, it said.
Yonhap News Agency quoted an army press officer as saying: "We are following legal guidelines and doing our best to protect their human rights and personal information."
The United States allows homosexual soldiers to serve their country with no discrimination just for their sexual preferences. The British military recruits homosexual men and women, sending recruiting teams out to gay parades and events.
Park Sae-jin = firstname.lastname@example.org