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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – A watchdog group says South Korea’s army is hunting down and prosecuting gay servicemen after a video of two male soldiers having sex was posted on the internet earlier this year, stoking fear in an already persecuted minority group.
Military investigators looking into the case have threatened soldiers to out their gay peers, confiscated cellphones to check communication records, and even used dating apps to dupe soldiers into revealing their sexual identity, said Taehoon Lim, the head of the Military Human Rights Center for Korea, which tracks down abuses in the armed forces.
South Korea’s army says it’s conducting a proper criminal investigation into soldiers allegedly involved with filming and uploading the video, which is a violation of the country’s communications laws and a military penal code that makes homosexual activity punishable by up to two years in prison. The army has denied allegations that investigators are using the case to embark on a broader mission to weed out gay soldiers.
“Military investigators used the information they gained from the investigation on the sex video to track down other gay soldiers in the army, starting by forcing the suspects to identify who they had sex with and then widening their search from there,” said Lim, who said a soldier tipped his group off about the alleged crackdown.
In conservative South Korea, gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people are harshly stigmatized and struggle to be politically visible, while a powerful Christian lobby immobilizes politicians seeking to pass anti-discrimination laws. That stigma is amplified in the military, where most able-bodied South Korean men are required to serve about two years as the country maintains a large force in the face of potential conflict with North Korea.
Gay men are not exempt from conscription but are banned from engaging in homosexual activity while serving, leading to an environment in which they serve without revealing their sexual identity for fear of discrimination and reprisals.
“South Korea’s military doesn’t exclude gay men from compulsory duty, but once they enter the military, they are seen as dangerous and treated as potential criminals, as the ongoing army investigation shows,” said Han Ga-ram, an openly gay human rights lawyer.
He said the investigation had “touched off fear in the LGBT community.”