An important place to visit for all locals and foreigners interested in Taiwan’s history is the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park.
Built as a prison in the late 1960s, Jingmei served as the primary detention center and court for political prisoners during the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party state rule.
The park stands as a reminder of the disparities and double standards of justice that existed during the Martial Law and White Terror eras under the KMT.
However, for many people the double standards of that period have not been fully purged from the current judicial system.
Why? First, compare two cases from the past — those of writer Bo Yang (柏陽) and vice admiral Wang Hsi-ling (汪希苓), the former head of the Military Intelligence Bureau.
Bo Yang was tried in 1969 after translating a Popeye cartoon in a way that was said to satirize former Republic of China (ROC) president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and the KMT one-party state. He was found guilty and sent to Green Island (綠島).
While in Jingmei, Bo Yang’s cell measured 7 ping (23.14m2) and was shared with two other prisoners. All inmates slept on floor mats near an open toilet. Visitors to Jingmei had very limited access hours in a public room where they talked to prisoners through a glass wall via telephone.
Satire proved a very serious crime.
Contrast Yang’s case with that of admiral Wang.
Wang was found guilty of ordering the murder of dissident journalist Henry Liu (劉宜良) in California in 1984. If it had been simply a case of murder on Taiwanese soil, then Wang would probably have gotten away with it like those guilty of the murders of Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) family while Lin was a prisoner in Jingmei, or the 1984 murder of Chen Wen-chen (陳文成).
However, this particular murder was committed on foreign soil and the US government wanted answers and justice. Wang was found guilty, but got off lightly in his sentencing.
A special building was built at Jingmei to house Wang and his deputy. This “cell” was 37 ping and was separated from other prison buildings. Wang and his deputy each had their own bedroom, study with bookshelves, dining and greeting room and bathroom. Able to gaze out of the window of his study, Wang could always ask the guard stationed nearby to bring him anything he wished. Wang’s wife had daily conjugal access to his rooms.
It was a comfortable setup. Wang served two years there before being transferred to house arrest on Yangmingshan, where he served another three years before being freed.
For an alleged piece of satire, Bo Yang spent nine years in a crowded Green Island prison with no visitors. However, for ordering a man to be murdered Wang spent only two years in a restricted, but comfortable home.
After that he spent three years under house arrest in the mountains with daily visiting privileges at both locations. Outrageous yes, but that was during the Martial Law period and double standards were to be expected.
Fast-forward now to examine two recent trials which are not a case of satire versus murder, but where apparent double standards still exist.
They are the cases of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世).
In the case of Chen Shui-bian, from the very beginning a vendetta appeared to be taking place as prosecutors pledged before the trial that they would resign if A-bian was not found guilty.