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Gov’t will form task force to curb teen assault cases

Initiative comes after recent brutal attack by group of minors
Sept 13,2017
A joint governmental task force cracking down on assault cases among Korean teens will soon be organized in reaction to the gruesome attack of a 14-year-old girl in Busan by a group of teenagers earlier this month.

The plan was relayed by Kim Sang-gon, deputy prime minister for social affairs and education minister, on Tuesday during an emergency meeting at the Government Complex Seoul with Justice Minister Park Sang-ki, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Do Jong-whan, Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Hyun-back, Korean National Police Agency Commissioner General Lee Chul-sung and Korean Communications Commission Chairman Lee Hyo-sung.

Deputy Prime Minister Kim did not mention precisely when the task force will launch or how, but key issues were suggested to be discussed, such as the amendment of the contested Juvenile Act.

Under the law, the maximum sentence that can be given to minors aged 14 to 18 is 15 years, while those from 10 to 13 are considered “protection cases” that do not face criminal trials and can only face up to two years in a juvenile reformatory.

The suspects in the Busan attack have attracted attention because they all are minors. A petition on the Blue House website seeking more serious punitive action against them has garnered some 267,000 signatures so far.

Justice Minister Park said his ministry would “prudently review” the Juvenile Act, including whether any changes were needed regarding the maximum number of years in prison a minor can receive. Police chief Lee said he regretted how lax early investigations of the Busan case were, and that he will launch a full probe to see whether any other assault cases have gone unnoticed.

The task force announcement came a day after a local court approved a detention warrant for one of the seven suspects, a 14-year-old girl who is suspected to have inflicted the most harm.

The suspects allegedly beat the victim on the night of Sept. 1 for about 90 minutes with glass bottles, construction materials and a chair near a factory in the city’s Saha District. The assault came to light two days later when a photo of the victim, covered in blood and kneeling on a concrete floor, began spreading online.

The victim sustained at least three serious scars on her head and two in the mouth, and is currently receiving medical treatment at a hospital.

Allowing prosecutors to detain the key suspect, the judge said there was “valid reason” to believe the allegations against her were true, adding there was also fear she might flee.

Prosecutors said they were planning to request a detention warrant for one other 14-year-old suspect who was also alleged to have played a lead role in the gang attack. Including the suspect whose detention warrant was approved, police had asked the prosecution to detain them both last week, but prosecutors decided to drop the warrant for the second suspect due to legal complexities. The head of a local probation office who was looking after her had already asked the court to start trial.

Prosecutors have asked the court to send the case back to them, and are seeking to request the warrant once the court allows.

The five other suspects have all been booked without physical detention.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE EUN-JI AND OH WON-SEOK [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]