On 12 November 2010 the High Court found the Hsichih Trio not guilty of charges of murder and robbery. Many hoped this finally marked the end of the case that has seen three men spend almost twenty years of their lives dragged through the courts and facing the death penalty. However, this week the prosecutors filed another appeal in the case again taking it to the Supreme Court.
The prosecutors’ case is based on confessions extracted under torture. There is no physical evidence that the three accused were at the scene of the crime. Despite this the case has been the subject of 13 trials and retrials. The entire case highlights multiple problems in Taiwan’s justice system.
Since the KMT returned to power in 2008 President Ma Ying-jeou has on numerous occassions cited the importance of judicial reform. Yet, apart from the removal of a few corrupt judges, there seems to have been no progress and judicial rights have gone backwards. The cases involving former President Chen Shui-bian have also highlighted many procedural problems in the justice system. There is also concern that the verdicts may have been influenced by political pressure in the lead up to the five cities election. (See my letter to the Taipei Times raising questions about judicial independence.)
2010 has also seen the return of the death penalty in Taiwan with four men executed on 30 April ending a four and a half year unofficial moratorium. Unless more substantial action is taken on judicial reform and the abolition of the death penalty any claims that the Ma government makes about improvements in human rights will have no substance.
Amnesty International released a public statement on the Hsichih Trio case on 10 December 2010 which was also Human Rights Day. The full text of the statement is below.