Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Rule of law requires impartial enforcement

By Lee Wen-Chung 李文忠

Are the detentions of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), his top aides and former officials appropriate? It’s still too early to tell, because we don’t know if there is clear evidence that those detained were involved in illegal actions, if their involvement was so significant that detention was necessary to prevent collusion, or if it was an attempt to force confessions.

Article 101 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) states that detention shall be ordered if a person is suspected of having committed an offense, if he or she has absconded or if there is sufficient reason to believe that they would abscond, destroy, forge or alter evidence or conspire with a suspected co-offender or witness, making it apparent that there would be difficulties with prosecution, trial or sentencing unless the detention were ordered.

The presumption of innocence requires that suspects be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of third instance. Detention is a substantive punishment and should be a last resort. The question is whether the judiciary and prosecutors adhere strictly to the spirit of the law and human rights requirements when handling cases.

Revenge or anger cause some people to hope that prosecutors and judges will act like the legendary Song Dynasty official Bao Qingtian (包青天) did and swiftly arrest criminals with the same force as Bao used. Indeed, some still use detention as a means to force confessions. This goes against the need to protect human rights and conduct unbiased investigations. Such actions do not belong in a society ruled by law.

The Chen case is a major case that has agitated both the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Some media outlets issue groundless accusations and sensationalize the case, while pundits reveal inside information to influence the case. Even the special investigation team has violated the secrecy of the investigation, damaging the reputation of the suspect. The need for so many detention orders is also questionable.

We still remember how many corrupt government officials in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and business tycoons escaped prosecution. Some, such as Rebar Group founder Wang You-theng (王又曾) and former Pingtung County commissioner Wu Tse-yuan (伍澤元) remain at large. And despite the similarities between Chen’s state affairs fund and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) special mayoral allowance fund, the two men have received very different treatment. Nor were the thousands of high-ranking officials with access to special allowance funds prosecuted. Where is the justice in this?

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Tainan City Councilor Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) was indicted with demands for a 14-month jail sentence for allegedly mobbing Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) just six days after the incident, while DPP Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) was detained even before a summons was issued.

This atmosphere has caused the green camp to ask whether this is judicial investigation or politically motivated persecution.

Taiwan is a country ruled by law. We must insist on the law as the last line of defense for social justice. Hopefully, prosecutors will investigate Chen’s case conscientiously. They should offer a solid indictment in response to doubts of the accused and the public. Judges should be impartial to ensure a fair trial.

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