Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Eroding justice: Open letter No. 2

The Honorable Wang Ching-feng,

Minister of Justice,

Taipei, Taiwan

Dear Minister Wang [王清峰],

In an open letter to the Taipei Times published on Nov. 25, you responded to our joint statement regarding the erosion of justice in Taiwan. We appreciate your acknowledgement of the sincerity of our concerns, and are grateful to receive a prompt and serious reply.

Based on the information available to us, however, we remain concerned about choices made by prosecutors in applying existing legal authority and strongly believe in the need for reform. Please allow us to highlight a number of specific points:

1. The procedure of “preventive detention”: This procedure is obviously intended for serious criminal cases in which the suspect is likely to flee the country. In his Nov. 13 article in the South China Morning Post, Professor Jerome Cohen states that “it ought to be invoked rarely.”

Yet, during the past weeks, it has been used across the board, and it has been used only against present and former members of Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] governments. This casts severe doubts on the impartiality of the judicial system. We also wish to point out that the people involved were detained under deplorable circumstances, and that they were not even allowed to see relatives.

2. Your open letter contains the argument that when they were detained, the present and former DPP government officials “were all informed of the charges that had been brought against them.” This is simply not correct. When they were detained, they were subjected to lengthy interrogations — in some cases for up to 20 hours — which bore the character of a “fishing expedition,” and do not represent a formal indictment in any legal sense. In most cases the prosecutors had had months to collect information; if they did have sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, they should have formally charged the persons and let them have their day in a scrupulously impartial court of law. That would be the desirable procedure under the rule of law in a democratic society.

3. Your open letter also states that the persons involved had “the right and ability to communicate with their attorneys to seek legal assistance.” It neglects to mention, however, that in all cases where people were detained, the discussions with the lawyers were recorded and videotaped while a guard took notes. This information was then immediately transmitted to the respective prosecutors. We don’t need to point out that this is a grave infringement on international norms regarding lawyer-client privilege and makes mounting an adequate defense problematic at best.

4. On the issue of leaks to the press, your letter states that, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, information from ongoing investigations can only be disclosed by spokespersons of the prosecutor’s offices and that unauthorized disclosure is subject to criminal prosecution. The fact of the matter is that during the past weeks, the media have been filled with information on the ongoing investigations that could only have come from the prosecutors. We may point out one example, but there are numerous others:

Only a few hours after former minister of foreign affairs Mark Chen [陳唐山] was questioned on Nov. 3, Taiwan’s Apple Daily newspaper ran an article saying that “the prosecutors are thinking of charging Dr Chen in relation to the case.”

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