Lee Seong-yong, South Korea Air Force Chief resigned from his post Friday following the death of a female colleague, as per reports. The woman, a sergeant in the forces, ended her life in May reportedly after suffering sexual assault and harassment at the hands of a male officer. One accused was arrested Thursday, the South Korean defence ministry said.
“I would like to extend my apology to the citizens and deep condolences to the deceased person and her family. I feel heavy responsibility and offer my resignation,” Seong-yong said in a statement, as quoted by Reuters.
President Moon Jae-in has accepted Seong-yong’s resignation. He is the shortest-serving Air Force chief in the country, having joined only September last year.
Following the woman’s death, her family alleged air force officials were in the know about the abuse she faced and covered up the incident. “She had suffered persistent bullying since the incident and the military only sought to conceal it, ignored her complaints and pressed her to sign a settlement,” a petition they addressed to President Jae-in read.
S Korea Air Force Chief Resignation: A Spotlight On Harassment In Uniformed Ranks
The sergeant, identified only as Lee in media reports, was found dead May 22. A male sergeant had allegedly molested her in a car the same month. Lee’s family claims the involvement of three air force officials; two for negligence of duty and one for harassment.
A petition they filed Tuesday with the President’s office blew up the case on a national level, with supporters rallying behind the family demanding action. On Thursday, the air force reportedly dismissed two officers from duty as Jae-in ordered a thorough investigation in the case.
The South Korean armed forces have long been under scrutiny for alleged discrimination in the ranks. In March, the country’s first trans soldier was found dead amid public allegations of LGBTQIA harassment. Even though the defence ministry claims to have tightened regulations on bullying and workplace harassment, inside sources told Reuters that in Lee’s case, there are “signs that the air force tried to protect its own organisation, rather than the victim, despite her multiple attempts seeking help.”