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.