By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) — Seven celebrity soldiers who were caught on camera drinking and entering a massage parlor were sentenced to several days in a military prison for violating the military code of conduct, the defense ministry said Thursday.
The soldiers faced unprecedented tough disciplinary actions after a local TV network last month secretly taped a group of soldiers on a night out.
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Two of them were caught by a camera crew in front of a massage parlor late at night after failing to get service. Others were shown drinking together in a private restaurant following a performance for a military event.
The incident caused a fierce nationwide backlash in a country where the mandatory two-year military service for all males is taken very seriously, prompting the defense ministry to abolish the controversial celebrity recruiting system last week.
The soldiers were serving for the Defense Media Agency (MDA), a unit that has provided programming for TV and radio broadcasts to promote a positive image of the military since 1997.
Following a special audit, the ministry's disciplinary committee on Thursday announced disciplinary actions for eight soldiers who damaged the public image of the military and lowered the morale of other regular soldiers.
Seven soldiers received a prison term ranging from 4-10 days, while one was grounded to his unit for 10 days. After the ruling, they were immediately sent to a military prison at the defense ministry compound, which is guarded by military police.
"These disciplinary actions applied fair and thorough sentencing rules," the committee said in a statement.
As the celebrity soldier unit was abolished, a total of 15 soldiers under the DMA will be relocated to other Army units.
The military's alleged special treatment of celebrities has frequently been the subject of criticism as several celebrities serving military duty were seen enjoying more freedom than ordinary soldiers.
Earlier this year, K-pop star Rain got in trouble when paparazzi photos showed him secretly dating top actress Kim Tae-hee. He was grounded to his unit for a week for violating the code of conduct.
The military service is a highly sensitive issue in South Korea where political candidates lose elections because they or their sons have not served in the military. Some celebrities and athletes have been arrested and forced into near exile after getting caught evading the draft.
Correction: This article has been edited from an earlier version, which included erroneous information suggesting that the performer Rain was involved in recent misconduct.
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