Taiwan needs justice not persecution

Update: This article has been translated into Chinese: 台灣需要公平正義而不是迫害. Paul Katz’s article has also been translated: 六月四日,阿扁羈押半年紀念日.

For a long time I have wanted to write something about the detention of former President Chen Shui-bian. I have avoided it for a number of reasons. First, it has been painful to watch the downfall of someone I once greatly admired. Second, I find it hard to accept the animosity and vitriol that many people in Taiwan express toward A-bian. It is clear the KMT and its cohorts in the media have succeeded in convincing a significant percentage of people in Taiwan that A-bian is an evil monster who doesn’t even deserve basic human rights. As a result it is difficult to have a calm and rational conversation about the topic.

A must read article by Paul Katz (中文) at The China Beat finally prompted me to go back to this article that has been in draft for so long. Katz writes that 4 June marks the 185th day of Chen’s detention. That’s more than half a year. It’s too long. Remember that Chen was first detained on 12 November 2008 and not indicted until 12 December 2008. He was released and two subsequent appeals by prosecutors to detain Chen were rejected by the court. It was only after the much criticised switching of judges that Chen was detained again on 30 December 2008. He has been continuously in detention since then.

It is clear that Chen Shui-bian’s family have engaged in inappropriate financial dealings. Their actions should be investigated and tried before a court. All people are equal before the law and the fact a former President is on trial is proof of that. Nobody should escape justice because of any position they hold. It is important to remember though, there is a significant difference between doing something wrong and being found guilty in a court of law. The principles of being innocent until proven guilty and the right to a fair trial are fundamental.

From the beginning it was obvious Chen’s trial would be subject to great scrutiny and needed to be conducted to the highest judicial standards. Katz expresses it quite eloquently:

having a top-ranking politician found guilty after a trial deemed fair and impartial would constitute an immense boost in prestige for Taiwan’s judicial system, while also sending a crystal-clear message to all politicians facing similar forms of temptation. However, a conviction following proceedings that suggest Chen is presumed guilty and likely to be found guilty as well would represent a major step backwards, and risk causing a reversion to traditional views of the law as being simply a tool to enhance state interests.

Chen’s trial has been marked by ongoing events which show that the judiciary doesn’t adhere to the high standards that it should. There has been political interference in the appointment of judges, inappropriate behaviour by prosecutors and a lack of respect for basic principles of human rights. Chen’s detention has limited his ability to properly consult with his lawyers in preparing the case for his defense. Chen has a sharp legal mind and the chance to stand up and defend himself in a fair trial is something that he would have relished not run away from.

Ma Ying-jeou was charged with corruption in 2007 and subsequently acquitted. He did not spend a single day in detention. The double standard in Chen’s ongoing detention is clear and obvious. Katz further elucidates here:

detention of politicians on such charges is almost unprecedented. Over the years, numerous politicians of all stripes have been accused of corruption. Some have been found guilty and sent to prison, while others have been proven innocent. Only a small percentage has been subjected to detention (most are allowed the right to bail), although many suspects have fled the country and are currently living high on the hog (swine flu notwithstanding) in China and the U.S. Apart from Chen, however, no Taiwanese politician has been detained for such a long period of time on corruption charges without having first been convicted of a crime.

The real reason for A-bian’s ongoing detention has nothing to do with justice. The Taiwan News writes in its editorial today:

After all, the genuine source of the hatred against Chen has little to do with the question of whether he was really corrupt but lies in the fact that the human rights lawyer and fiery lawmaker and “upstart,” for all of his undeniable defects, led Taiwan’s grassroots Democratic Progressive Party in an electoral campaign that pulled the KMT down after nearly 55 years of unchallenged authoritarian and one-party dominant rule.

The Ma government had a great chance to show that it was genuinely committed to fighting corruption through Chen’s trial. Instead we got a circus, a kangaroo court and trial by media. There is no justice in Taiwan. The KMT continues to act with impunity while those that challenge its power are persecuted.

15 thoughts on “Taiwan needs justice not persecution

  1. Thx for the read. There is a typo though: “family have engaged in appropriate financial dealings”.

  2. Well put, David. I’m not a fan of Chen Shuibian at all, but I abhor the shoddy way he is being treated. It demeans the nation.

  3. Thanks for this post. I’ve had problems talking about CSB as well. On one hand, you want to support him because of what he was able to do for Taiwan during his 8 years, but you also know that somewhere, whether him or his family, had committed some wrongs and should be punished for it. I usually respond to CSB attackers by saying that yes, CSB should be punished for whatever wrongs he has done, fairly and justly through Taiwan’s judicial system. After that, they usually digress thinking I’m on par with what they are thinking– but they always seem to ignore the later part about it being fair and just. Taiwanese need to stop taking things at face value. The way that we respond to CSB being detained without being convicted, goes to show that the Taiwanese’s “thinking” about what civil liberties and human rights are, are still in the infant stages. It’s something that is going to have to take time, which is something we don’t have.

  4. Media and KMT quickly found guilty the former president Chen Shui-Bian.
    Where is the presumption of innocence ?

  5. Thanks for this post. But it would be nice if someone there could explain, seriously, to the rest of us why Chen is routinely dismissed as “unpopular.” Why the KMT hates him is clear, but what about everyone else? From a distance, we can only guess. Are there polls that have asked what DPP supporters think of him? If so, where … ??

  6. Maoman and Richard, thanks for your feedback. I was a bit uncertain how people would react to this post. There have been occasions where I have mentioned A-bian and got quite hostile responses.

    Tim, hopefully a few people will follow your links and add their names to the petition. While it might not set A-bian free at least it shows some people care.

    Fred, the media has been so successful in convincing most people of A-bian’s guilt that they think there is no need for presumption of innocence. Analysis of media coverage of Chen’s trial would make a good research paper.

    Suzanne, I think in the final two years of A-bian’s second term he became quite unpopular. While he still maintained a strong base of support in the DPP, a lot of people in the DPP were also disappointed and even more so after the August 2008 admission that he wired campaign funds overseas. Sorry, I don’t have any opinion polls at my fingertips that I can point to.

  7. Hi David. This post really strikes me hard and you have expressed your view.

    I once voted Chen for Taipei mayor and treated him as a legend. The recent list of crimes regarding corruption and bribes are also something quite unpleasant to see. However, it is inevitable to do a degree of corruption in this taiwanese political climate.

    You are right about his trial and mistreatment. At the same time, public were only shown one side of stories. The whole thing is potentially biased to incriminate someone.

    You are brave to post this article in the current time

  8. Remember the Frank Hsieh MRT charges? Not guilty.

    The charges about Southern Taiwan Science Park and the High Speed Rail anti-vibration system? Not guilty.

    Chen Shui-bian isn’t even really seriously up for the charges everyone “knew” were true about him two years ago. It’s all about the political donations that he admitted to AFTER he left the presidency.

    But the whole DPP is labeled as a corrupt party while the KMT keeps converting its property into cash and outspending the DPP on elections 5-1 to 10-1 (it’s hard to know exactly when you don’t have to report party assets and party subsidies). KMT gangsters and family conglomerate representatives still run free in the Legislative Yuan, working on the cover of attacks on CSB. The main negotiator with China’s son holds vast business interests in China. Sigh…

  9. Watching the whole thing unfold has been pretty depressing. The responses I’ve had with locals almost always focus on the bad things he’s done as justification. People rarely see past that. KMT supporters see it as justified and DPP supporters are embarrassed. In the meantime the focus remains on him which just diverts attention from the bigger issue.

  10. IMO, one of the key reasons KMT can use CSB as a tool is that Taiwanese treat CSB as a God-like figure. God is supposed to be flawless, so once Taiwanese find out that CSB is not flawless, the absolute faith backfires.

    Unfortunately DPP bigshots fail to remind Taiwanese that even Chen is corrupt it’s not the end of the world. The political persecution that Taiwanese kept a blind eye to is far more serious than Chen’s case itself.

    Instead DPP falls right into the trap, ignoring the political persecution part during the entire 6 month of Chen’s detention — until one week before DPP’s 517 street demonstration. During that week, all DPP heavyweights, Tsai In-wen, Su Chen-chan, Frank Hsieh, … suddenly “discovered” that CSB’s detention is in violation of human right, so they went to visit Chen, claiming that they went there to protest Ma government’s political persecution, even though they avoid CSB like plague in the past half year.

    DPP’s show performance simply reveals that the CSB saga is not played out single-handedly by KMT. It also shows how popular CSB still is, otherwise DPP bigheads wouldn’t bother to visit him right before the 517.

  11. Passing By, Peter and Taiwan Echo, thanks for your comments. Some good insights there.

    This article has now been translated into Chinese and Paul Katz’s article has too. I have updated the post with the links.

  12. I agree that fact that Taiwan needs justice and not persecution but, how does this have anything to do with Mr. Chen? There are so many big issues in Taiwan that have been there for years before Mr. Chen was even the president of Taiwan and need to be addressed. The sad part of it is that if you put Mr. Chen into the mixes of any issues that you want to talk about, the issues will be dead before they are brought up. My suggestion to you is to talk about any issues that you think will improve Taiwan’s quality of life but please, leave Mr. Chen out of it! After all, Mr. Chen is no longer an issue and Taiwan has to move on!

  13. Cheng, your comment provides me with a good chance to post a link to the joint statement of lawyers, scholars and activists calling for reform of the judicial system and the immediate release of Chen Shui-bian. I will just take a brief quote from it that I believe sums up the issue.

    However, the case of former President Chen has clearly illustrated that the legal rights of our former head of state have not been protected. This being so, how we can ever ensure that the rights of ordinary citizens will not be violated?

    The trial of a former President in any country is of major significance. No matter what your personal opinion of Chen Shui-bian might be, his trial matters. Chen’s trial has exposed several failings of the judicial system. Taiwan needs a strong independent judiciary that adheres to the highest standards of human rights. At the moment it appears more like a kangaroo court.

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