“The horse does not know how long his face is.”
This Chinese saying applies to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the responsibility he bears for Taiwan’s growing human rights problems and erosion of justice — all this after barely seven months into his tenure.
No, Ma may not know how long his face is, but more and more of Taiwan’s citizens do, as well as international organizations.
A quick way to see the greater degree of abuse under Ma is to examine the differences in how the accused were treated in three high-profile cases under former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and contrast them with Chen’s treatment under Ma.
Let’s start with the case of James Soong (宋楚瑜), a former provincial governor and the founder of the People First Party (PFP).
During Lee’s tenure, Soong was not only indicted but found guilty of money-laundering and misuse of funds on several occasions.
Was he handcuffed and hauled off to jail prior to any indictments being issued against him, as happened to Chen? Was Soong held incommunicado like Chen? Was Soong even jailed after being found guilty?
No. Soong always enjoyed the freedom to meet and strategize with whomever he wanted. In the end, what horrendous punishment was given to him? He paid back taxes on undeclared income and went on to tour the many properties he owns in the US.
Next, let’s look at the money-laundering case involving Ma, who was indicted during Chen’s time as president.
Ma never suffered the indignities meted out to Chen.
Was Ma cuffed? Was Ma held incommunicado? No.
He was not only allowed to walk around freely and consult with all of his staff and potentially his fellow indictees, but also to announce his run for the presidency.
Not bad, not bad at all.
Of course, Ma was found not guilty, but what most people forget is that Ma’s secretary was found guilty of money-laundering and putting around half a million NT dollars into Ma’s account.
That secretary is now in jail. Ah, yes, what politician would not wish to have such a loyal secretary?
Given that Chen was cuffed, taken to a detention center and held incommunicado some six months after he left the Presidential Office — without being indicted — it takes some nerve to say that all are still equal before the law.
Prosecutors have tried to justify their actions by saying they were afraid Chen would threaten witnesses and/or would flee the country.
But even Ma’s former law professor and mentor, Jerome Cohen, has criticized the large number of arrests of Democratic Progressive Party figureheads without indictment.
Stretching the spirit of the presumption of innocence, the prosecutors swore that they would resign if they could not indict Chen before the end of the year.
If threatening witnesses or fleeing the country were serious options, Chen had ample time to take them up.
After Chen was indicted, weeks after his detention, he was released without bail — but the prosecutors would not let go. They continued to demand imprisonment, and got their way after three attempts — which required the removal of the Taipei District Court judge who did not take their concerns very seriously.
These high-profile examples are the tip of the iceberg.
The more telling development is how, in a scant seven months, numerous human rights organizations have protested what is happening under the Ma administration. This volume of protest never happened during the 12 years of Lee’s presidency or during the eight years of Chen’s. But Ma has managed to pull it off within a year.