Justice is dying
The imprisonment of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was like an H-bomb exploding in Taiwan. It divided the country and brought back the nightmare of raucous battling between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. Apparent leaks of the investigation by the judicial authorities to talk show hosts and pan-blue media have fueled public hatred against the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.
The decision to throw Chen back in jail after changing judges in the middle of court proceedings was particularly bothersome.
On Jan. 11, several prosecutors directly involved in Chen’s case performed a skit in which a detainee raised her handcuffed hands and shouted “judicial persecution.” The audience, which included Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰), broke into laughter, mocking the former president.
This is no laughing matter. When he was visiting Central America six months ago, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) told media that Chen’s crimes reminded him of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. Many DPP officials were handcuffed and imprisoned even before the nature of their crimes was revealed. Chen was shown no respect as he was handcuffed in the open. After his 32 days in detention and a hunger strike, the court released him.
The prosecutors’ office chose not to challenge the ruling. Within 24 hours, prosecutors changed their minds and filed a protest. The court rejected the appeal and allowed Chen to remain free. This was followed by an avalanche of criticism by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators. The judge who had set Chen free was replaced and the new judge ruled against Chen on the assumption that he could flee the country or coerce his subordinates. He was therefore sent back to prison.
Taiwan was ruled under martial law for about four decades. For the past 20 years under presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen, democracy gained a foothold. Despite harsh criticism from KMT-friendly TV stations and newspapers, Chen vowed he would rather resign as president than shut down one TV station. Taiwan’s press is ranked the freest in Asia and up until now we could expect that courts and prosecutors would respect due process.
With Ma and Wang, however, we see clear and open attempts to interfere with the judiciary. Obedient prosecutors just follow the example set by their superiors. It was unprecedented — and appalling — to see a minister of justice allow such a skit to be held.
There is no excuse for her behavior, even if she defended it by saying it was only for internal amusement.
Justice is dying in Taiwan. What is so disappointing is that too few law professors and teachers have been speaking out. What happened to all the intellectuals and the fair-minded people? Where are you?
One thing is certain, your rights and life will not be protected if there is no justice.
TIEN C. CHENG
Of course prosecutors and even the minister of justice have the right to act or have some fun on “Law Day.” They can choose any subject — Santa Claus or Arabian Nights or anything else, for that matter — to make fun of. But their little “play” about former president Chen Shui-bian went too far.
Behavior of this kind not only raises ethical questions, it also libelous.
It is disheartening to see prosecutors and a minister of justice so openly display their lack of emotional quotient and IQ. They have behaved like clowns — high paid ones at that.