When the international community criticizes Taiwan’s human rights record, the government listens and occasionally even acts. This was the case under the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and did not change with the transfer of power in May.
Considering the influence that foreign pressure has had in the past — leading, for example, to an end to the practice of shackling death row prisoners — we must be grateful for the attention Taiwan has received in past months from organizations like Freedom House, the International Federation of Journalists and the International Federation for Human Rights.
In this paper’s Sunday edition, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government again showed its sensitivity to overseas scrutiny in a written response to an article from Freedom House published last month. That article — composed after the authors visited Taiwan to conduct interviews with academics, DPP and KMT officials and civic groups — listed concerns ranging from a lack of transparency in cross-strait negotiations to bias in the judiciary and “trial by media.”
In his response, Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) attempted to dismiss those concerns — with little success.
Su offered an argument also used by Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) in her January response to an open letter from overseas academics and Taiwan experts. What may seem to be bias on the part of prosecutors targeting pan-green politicians, Wang and Su said, could be explained by the fact that the DPP was in power the past eight years and had more opportunities for corruption. Wang even wrote that “the opposition party [KMT] enjoyed no such access” to positions that could be abused. This claim was risible, not least considering that the pan-blue camp has always dominated the legislature and local governments, controlling 18 of the nation’s 25 city and county governments since 2004.
Su also cited Ministry of Justice statistics from the past nine years to argue that there was no evidence of bias in the judiciary in the past nine months. The number of pan-green versus pan-blue officials and legislators investigated during those nine years was about the same, Su wrote. He argued that this, together with the mandate for prosecutors to act independently of government influence, proved that allegations of pressure from the current administration were “absolutely unjustifiable.”
His response to concerns about a skit put on by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office was equally weak. “It should not be imagined that such a trivial skit could influence the judiciary’s thinking,” Su wrote. However, the crux of the issue was not that the skit may have engendered bias, but that it may have reflected it.
Su also brushed off Freedom House’s criticism of closed-door cross-strait talks and its call for the government to “take an inclusive and open posture toward the public” on any deals with China. He said that the information reported on the negotiations was adequate, adding that the deals signed in November were sent to the legislature. He neglected to mention, however, that the KMT caucus stalled their review, allowing the four deals to take effect automatically.
Su’s article was a rehash of ineffective arguments. The government may be disappointed to find that its response to Freedom House did little to allay concerns about the state of human rights and judicial independence in Taiwan.
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