Human rights under attack in Taiwan

Some two weeks have passed since I wrote the post asking if Taiwan is becoming a police state? It was written during the middle of ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin’s visit to Taiwan and it focused on the actions of police during that week. I now want to look more broadly at some of the major human rights issues that have occurred in Taiwan in the past few months.

The big news in the past week has been the detention of former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). In isolation it might seem that justice is being achieved, but Chen is yet to be formally indicted. Was it necessary for him to be detained for the investigation to proceed? Even if his detention was necessary his handcuffing certainly was not. Prosecutors have had more than two years to gather evidence in the state affairs fund case yet they have still been unable to prosecute Chen.

The former President’s detention must be seen as part of a broader pattern of the detention of DPP officials on corruption related charges. The cases of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬)and Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) have also been in the news as they have gone on hunger strikes to protest their detention. Another case is that of Tainan City Councillor Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) who was swiftly given a 14 month jail sentence for an incident where he supposedly pushed ARATS Vice-Chair Zhang Mingqing.

The key issue is whether the judiciary is acting according to proper procedures or conducting a witch hunt on behalf of the KMT. It is clear that only detaining and investigating members of one party amounts to political persecution and is doing nothing to address the problem of corruption. It also seems that in Taiwan presumption of innocence is trumped by trial by media.

During the week of Chen Yunlin’s visit police acted outside the law on numerous occasions. Their actions went far beyond what was necessary to ensure the personal security of Chen Yunlin. Questions about whose orders police were acting under need to be answered.

Another issue of concern are the government interfering with the media during Chen Yunlin’s visit. The government were selective in giving media access to certain events. There were several incidents where police interfered with reporters doing their jobs. The Association of Taiwan Journalists, International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have all expressed concern about various incidents that took place during the week.

What is also disturbing is the government’s response, or lack of, to many of these incidents. The Wild Strawberry movement’s demands for an apology from President Ma and Premier Liu and the resignation of the chiefs of the National Police and National Security Bureau are very reasonable expectations. Yet the Premier has merely remarked that everyone should forget about it in a few days. It shows that the government is arrogant and has no real concern for human rights. It is not bothered by discontent from the public and perhaps feels it can shift the blame to the DPP with rhetoric of violence and corruption.

All these incidents need to be thoroughly investigated, yet who can be trusted to conduct the investigation? The judiciary is clearly acting in the interests of the newly restored KMT party-state. This highlights the urgent need for an independent watchdog capable of monitoring the judiciary and police. Taiwan needs a Human Rights Commission that can operate without fear of government interference. It also needs human rights education for the judiciary, police and government officials.

Even worse is that events like these continue to divide Taiwanese society. Chances of reconciliation are being passed up as Taiwan continues to play by a familiar political script.  Many of these problems are rooted in the failure to achieve genuine transitional justice. For Taiwanese society to move forward human rights have to be seen as something valued and important. They are the foundation on which civil society and good government is built.

7 thoughts on “Human rights under attack in Taiwan

  1. Quite true. It all feels like a vendetta is being carried out. At least, that is my impression of the current state of affairs. I’m not saying that corruption should be condoned by passing it up with an excuse such as 將心比心, but the KMT people seem to be gloating over the current mishap of the DPP. With such an antagonistic attitude, there really is little hope for Taiwan to gain grounds on important issues and crises that are currently besetting the nation (classical “divide and conquer”). However, here’s the ironic thing, how can we talk of Reunification when we are ourselves are showing no inclination to make peace with our own people? (Not that I support Reunification, mind you.)

    I was once an avid supporter of the DPP, but have, for the past months, been disenchanted with the party. Clearly, this is an act of perfidy to the people; and I hope all politicians, regardless of creed, learn from it. Though, I’m sure that there are still a lot of good politicians in the DPP, even as there are also good politicians in the KMT.

  2. Yes, it’s funny… if you are out making a big deal about the importance of human rights and the rule of law, a large sector of society turns off as they equate those movements with the DPP. It is almost sad the DPP has been so closely identified with those other movements, because when the DPP falters they bring everything else down with them.

  3. @ AK,

    I have a feeling, just a feeling, that the Chinese government is largely operating under the same assumption. Bring down the DPP, have their malfeasance exposed, and you ultimately bring down the ideals of which they stand for. The question is: Is this assumption 100% true?

    The way Taiwan has been dealt with is a double-edged sword. On the one side, seek to extinguish the foe; and on the other, extend economic goodwill to the point that “the Taiwanese don’t bite the hand that feeds them.” And look, this situation now even applies to the US. Who wants to offend the banker?

    As an aside, I am curious where our government will conjure up the money to bring the $3600 cash voucher into reality.

  4. The way the Ma administration and the KMT-dominated judiciary has been acting lately, it almost looks as if they have forgotten that their conduct will be judged again in the next election. And soon after he was elected president/regional administrator, Ma was already speaking confindently of serving TWO consecutive terms.

    The way Ma acts with such little regard for public opinion makes me wonder if he believes that he has found a way to remain in power indefinitely without having to worry about details like public opinion and the next election.

    It would not surprise me very much if Ma and high-ranking KMT members are actually planning (in cooperation with Bejing) some well-timed incident or sudden crisis in the Strait to occur in 2012 (such as a blockade, a boarding of a Chinese ship by Taiwan’s coastguard, attack on Chinese tourists or buisnessmen in Jinmen, etc.), that would regrettably necessitate an indefinite suspension of the normal election process, thus leaving Ma and the KMT perpetually in control.

    Of course many Taiwanese see him as shifty, two-faced and unpatriotic, but a lot of people, he fits their image of an up-right Chinese scholar-official perfectly.

    In a 2012 crisis secario, Ma would use his charisma to play the “good cop” to Beijing’s “bad cop”, assuring Taiwanese that he is the only man who can protect their interests in negotiations with Beijing. It would be the end of Taiwan’s sovereignty as we know it, but many Taiwanese will still be grateful to Ma for standing up for Taiwan and steering Taiwan though the crisis without any large-scale disruption of the economy.

    What do you think? Is that so extremely far-fetched?

    scott in Tainan

  5. Scott, I don’t think your scenario is far fetched at all. I think too many people fall into the trap of thinking China can only take Taiwan by launching a full-scale war. Actually there are a range of scenarios by which Taiwan could come under Chinese control without a war.

  6. Yes, David, all too true. In fact, Taiwan’s self-capitulation, as evidenced by the mangled flag in your latest blog, is clear indication of this. Unfortunately, for most part of the world, a crucial balance on economics has been lost. Only too late do we realise that by affording TOO MUCH dependency on China (and this is true from LA to Japan), we have virtually surrendered/transferred our own economies to it. This was never a wise decision from the very beginning, any kid on the block will tell you that; even with all the hooplah about opening China up to the world.

    No one can be against China opening herself up to the world. But in our MISGUIDEDNESS, we have neglected our very selves. China will never reciprocate our “good intentions,” because there never were any. She knows it’s all about money and profit, and that is how she will deal also.

    We thought we knew what was good for China, but she has proven otherwise and trumped us instead. And this is just the tip of the iceberg because even as I write these words, efforts are being made by China to replace everything else into pure Chinese products (without the foreigners who were gullible enough to invest in the first place). I have seen this “shoot-yourself-in-the-foot” process at work for a number of years. Ironic how it all played out, isn’t it?

    I would rather that we have a boisterous, self-dependent, economy than recieve a $3,600 coupon that I will inevitably be paying later in the day anyway. (You probably think I’m lucky, but this proves that I’m not.)

    Okay, I need to get my ass off the chair and get ready for work. I’ve been up since 5, but the day still looks dreary. Ugh!

    Dropped A Hungry Girl a thank you note, like you said.

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