Wed, Jan 21, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Eroding justice: Open letter No. 3

DEAR PRESIDENT MA

We the undersigned, scholars and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, consider ourselves long-time supporters of a democratic Taiwan. We write to express our concern regarding the erosion of the judicial system in Taiwan during the past few months.

On two previous occasions we have publicly expressed our concerns to Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng (王清峰), but the minister’s responses are troubling in their persistent failure to acknowledge that there even is a problem, and in their attitude of denial that the judicial process is flawed and partial. We trust that our raising our concerns with you as president will be treated as advice from international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation.

First we may mention the fact that your administration has not yet acted upon recommendations — made both by Freedom House and Amnesty International — to conduct an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), and in particular the police behavior and infringements on basic freedoms. The establishment of a scrupulously neutral commission is essential if there is to be a fair and objective conclusion on the disturbances that occurred during the Chen Yunlin visit.

Second, we are concerned about the legal proceedings in the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). The switch of the case from a three-panel court that released him on his own cognizance on Dec. 13 to a court that subsequently re-incarcerated him on Dec. 25 — both Christmas Day and Constitution Day — seems to have resulted from political pressure from KMT members of the Legislative Yuan. In his commentary in the South China Morning Post of Jan. 8, 2009, professor Jerome Cohen presented details of such political interference in the judicial system, while The Associated Press on Jan. 4 also gave incisive insights in the process that took place.

Third, we are deeply concerned by the widespread pattern of leaks to the media regarding ongoing cases — leaks which because of their content and nature can only have come from the prosecutors’ offices. As was reported by The Associated Press on Jan. 4, 2009, prominent observers in Taiwan such as professor Wang Yeh-lih of National Taiwan University charge that these leaks come from prosecutors who “consistently violated the principle of guarding the details of investigations during the Chen case.”

This pattern of behavior displays a distinct bias in the judicial system and a disregard for fair and impartial processes.

The lack of attention to professional judicial standards reached a new low with the skit by several prosecutors who satirized those whom they are prosecuting. We are disturbed by Minister Wang’s defending this as “just for fun.”

Press agencies quote the minister as saying: “It was just a play to help everybody relax. There’s no reason to take it too seriously.”

In our view the actions by the prosecutors and the comment by Minister Wang display a lack of judicial professionalism and political neutrality.

We reiterate that any cases of alleged corruption must be investigated, and that if the defendants are found guilty in a scrupulously impartial process, they should receive just punishment after trial. We thus emphasize that the political neutrality of the judicial system is a fundamental element in a democracy. The examples mentioned above indicate that the investigative process has been conducted and sensationalized to the extent that both the right of the accused to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence have been seriously jeopardized. Justice through the rule of law is essential to Taiwan’s efforts to consolidate democracy and protect fundamental human rights.

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