On Aug. 13, 1997, Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) was executed by the government for a crime it appears was committed by Hsu Jung-chou (許榮洲). He was neither the first nor the last to be murdered by Taiwan’s judicial system.
Last year, the same judicial system put another four citizens to death. They were executed following the resignation of former minister of justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰), who fell on her own sword in her unnecessarily public opposition to the death penalty.
Wang’s resignation seemed to galvanize public opinion in favor of capital punishment, as Pai Bing-bing (白冰冰) and Lu Chin-te (陸晉德) whipped up the pressure on Wang and used their children’s deaths to promote the very un--Confucian concept of revenge as the best form of grieving a lost one. The debate seemed over — a majority of Taiwanese, it seemed, wanted to keep the death penalty. Their thirst for revenge was greater than their concern that the wrong person might be executed.
Now that a tiny fraction of the total number of deadly “mistakes” made by the judiciary during the past 66 years are becoming public, many Taiwanese and some politicians are suddenly outraged. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) personally apologized for Chiang’s death and asked for Chiang’s family to receive compensation.
Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) quoted Ma as saying such a mistake could not be allowed to happen again, that the administration would push for reform and the Ministry of National Defense would determine who was responsible for this miscarriage of justice and — this is the key phrase — “deal with those responsible in accordance with the law.” Of course, this is the same system of laws that allowed the military to execute Chiang in the first place.
However, what Ma did not say was that capital punishment itself is intrinsically wrong and inhumane. He did not, and will not, say this because either he doesn’t believe it to be wrong (only executing the wrong person is a violation of human rights) or because he fears going against public opinion (or Pai), in which case he has no stomach or spine for the human rights he touts.
We should not forget that Chiang’s case happened only 15 years ago, yet the statute of limitations means that those responsible for his death are likely to go unpunished.
Democratization was not an even process — the judicial system and many of its laws and processes are still relics of the Martial Law era and the brutal Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dictatorship that imposed it. We would all do well to not forget the past that shapes the present. Mistakes are still being made today.
It is about time that Taiwanese take off their blinders and discard their love for tit-for-tat justice. It is hypocrisy to demand the death penalty for murderers while being outraged over the killing of an innocent by the same method.
If we don’t want mistakes to happen, the only protection from the judicial murder of innocents is to ban the death penalty outright.
ROC’s dwindling space
President Ma recently told foreign dignitaries that the international space for the Republic of China (ROC) has enlarged simultaneously with his policy toward China utilizing the principle of the (so-called) “1992 consensus” and “one China with each side having its own interpretation.” He cited examples such as visa-waiver privileges for Taiwanese visiting the EU and participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA).