In a recent open letter (“Eroding justice: Open letter No. 3,” Jan. 21, page 8) the signatories express their concern for fairness in Taiwan’s judicial system. The government of the Republic of China appreciates their concern, but we find in the open letter a number of points of inaccuracy or misunderstanding about which I would like to provide clarification.
The open letter alleges that during the visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in November, police infringed on basic human freedoms, and infers that our government has taken no action to investigate such allegations. Actually, however, the National Police Agency has conducted internal investigations of such allegations and has so far taken disciplinary measures against five policemen whose behavior was found to be flawed.
Moreover, our Control Yuan and the public prosecutor’s office of the Taipei District Court are in the process of investigating complaints of improper police behavior together with instances of protester violence during Chen’s visit.
These facts demonstrate that our government takes this matter seriously and that our various investigatory mechanisms are functioning effectively.
In this connection, we note that preliminary data of the National Police Agency indicates that more than 170 policemen were injured by unruly protesters, as compared with 40 civilians (including reporters) who were injured, while 18 persons were arrested based on evidence that they did indeed perpetrate violence. The standards applied in making these arrests and in reviewing criticisms of police behavior are completely in line with those applied in other democratic nations.
As to why our government does not conduct such investigations by establishing a special independent commission, we have publicly explained this before: The Control Yuan is a branch of government constitutionally mandated to investigate allegations of misconduct by public servants, including police authorities, and to function independently of other branches of government. The US government, for example, has no comparable independent investigatory body and its Congress must therefore sometimes resort to establishing independent commissions.
In 2004, our Legislative Yuan established a special commission to investigate the shooting incident in which then president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) were injured. Later, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional certain aspects of the law by which the special commission was established, rendering the commission inoperative.
This demonstrates that under the constitutional system of the Republic of China, the Control Yuan suffices to play the role of independent investigatory body, and the establishment of a special commission in competition with the Control Yuan’s function is constitutionally questionable.
As people who are knowledgeable about Taiwan, the signatories of the open letter should be quite familiar with the aforementioned episode in history and understand its significance. Currently, the Control Yuan is in the process of re-examining the events of March 19, 2004.
Further, the open letter expresses concern about the legality of the switch of panels of judges to conduct the trial of former president Chen. Following the Dec. 12 indictment of the former president on multiple charges of corruption and money laundering, the Taipei District Court determined that because the charges concern complex financial matters of major importance, the trial should be conducted by a panel of judges with specialized competence in such matters. Through a lot-drawing procedure, the court assigned the case to a three-member panel of judges headed by Chou Chan-chun (周占春).
Later, the same panel of judges, at the suggestion of one of its members, Ho Chiao-mei (何俏美), requested the Taipei District Court to consider whether the case should be combined with an earlier-initiated case being heard by another panel of judges — namely the “state affairs fund” case, in which the accused is former first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍).
Former president Chen had also been charged in the 2006 indictment against the first lady, but was immune to prosecution at the time. Now that his immunity has lapsed, and one of the charges in the Dec. 12 indictment concerns the state affairs fund case, Judge Ho felt it was sensible and more economical to combine the two cases for hearing by the same panel so that the same questions will not be asked in the examination of witnesses in two different trial proceedings.
A review panel of Taipei District Court judges was convened to consider the question and it determined that a joinder of indictments is indeed the best course of action. Hence, the case involving former president Chen was reassigned to the panel of judges, headed by Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓), that has been handling the state affairs fund case since 2006. Furthermore, in response to an appeal by former president Chen’s counsel to reverse this decision, the Taiwan High Court rejected the appeal and confirmed that such a joinder is proper. This review and reassignment process is fully in keeping with due process of law.
As for suspicions that public prosecutors have leaked information to the press, we point out that former president Chen was named as a co-defendant in the state affairs fund corruption case in 2006, and that the period of investigation during which there is a ban on release of information has lapsed. We further point out that in the course of the investigation of former president Chen, his family members, and others in connection with suspicion of corruption and money laundering, the various witnesses, legal counsel and the accused themselves have inappropriately made public statements or provided information to the press. Thus, the open letter’s statement that information which appeared in news reports could only have come from public prosecutors is unfair.
Moreover, we stress that in the event solid evidence emerges to show that any person involved in the prosecutorial process has leaked information during the investigation stage of any case and has thus violated the rule of secrecy, the Ministry of Justice will surely take firm disciplinary and criminal legal action against said person.
Finally, with regard to the skit performed by public prosecutors attached to the Taipei District Court in celebration of Law Day, the Ministry of Justice had no knowledge of the content of the skit prior to its performance, nor do we deem it proper for the ministry to conduct a “pre-show investigation” of, or censor, the content of any such performance. Respecting the right of free speech, we can only hope and trust that light-hearted performances will remain within the bounds of good taste and will not reflect poorly on the performers’ integrity.
Following the performance, in response to criticisms that a portion of the skit inappropriately made fun of former president Chen, the prosecutors involved indicated that they had no intention of acting out of vengefulness but wished only to heighten the dramatic effect. Although such joking by public servants may be tolerated as being within the bounds of freedom of speech, the Ministry of Justice has nevertheless conveyed to the prosecutors in question, the reactions of critics who found their joking to be in bad taste or damaging to the dignity of the judicial system, and has urged them to avoid such behavior in the future.
To all who care about Taiwan, including the signatories of the Jan. 21 open letter, we again express our gratitude for your comments and criticisms. Please be assured that in prosecutorial matters, our judicial authorities are deeply concerned about safeguarding human rights and ensuring judicial fairness, and shall strive to strictly uphold the procedures stipulated by the laws of the Republic of China.
Su Jun-pin is the Government Information Office minister
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