Having bade farewell to the Prosecutors Evaluation Committee, I feel as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, but I also feel a sense of foreboding.
I have worked in the media both professionally and as an academic for 20 years, and firmly believe that Mencius was right when he said: “‘Those who give counsel to the great should view them with contempt, and disregard their pomp and circumstance.” I have always kept “the great” at arm’s length. However, two years ago, I know not why, I was “summoned” to sit on the first term of the committee, a fixed-term, unpaid position offering little but stress and long hours.
My understanding was that the job entailed helping to root out the more nefarious elements stowed within the judiciary, and for this reason I happily agreed. I was also the only member of the committee not versed in law. Given my relative lack of knowledge in all things legal, I spent those two years like a curious child, transfixed by the emperor proudly parading in front of my eyes, before I could no longer keep myself from blurting out: “The emperor has no clothes!”
Over the past two years, my duties have brought me into contact with how the Investigation Bureau operates, the minutiae of prosecutors’ interrogation methods and the process by which the Ministry of Justice’s Special Investigation Division (SID) handles cases, something the general public will probably never fully understand.
Flicking through one indictment upon another, I became increasingly perplexed. Could it be that the benefit of an education in law is that you can write legal documents in such a way that people find them utterly indecipherable? Even the most erudite, upon receiving such a document, might as well have been delivered a sheet of braille.
Having watched countless recordings of interrogations, I was amazed at how some people were able to withstand the kind of questioning methods they were subjected to without being browbeaten into a confession.
I gasped at the way the SID went about putting a case together, cobbling together evidence, coming to doubtful assertions and acting so self-righteously. When they were pursuing a case, the evidence-gathering skills of this meticulously selected band of legal high-flyers reminded me of those of a paparazzi rabble hounding a target.
Having seen the SID’s impressively comprehensive, all-inclusive wiretapping transcripts, a word to the wise: It is not just judges who have to be mindful of what they say — we all do, for someone is listening in.
Having witnessed the wiretapping methods used by prosecutors and the Investigation Bureau in their joint “war on crime,” I have become convinced that this way of obtaining information is as grave.
We will all experience the effects of it one day. If you ever have the fortune to participate in one of these evaluation committees and get to converse with members of these “legal high-flyers,” you will be quite shocked how people who spout these reams of drivel can be elevated to such heights, these “greats” of whom Mencius spoke.
If you understand the scope of the special powers accorded to the SID, then you will know when the division combines with powerful political players, how easy it is to make political adversaries go the way of the hapless Jang Song-thaek, the recently erased uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
My impression after two years of sitting on the committee is this: With the lack of transparency in how the judiciary operates coupled with the corrupt edifice of politics in this country, unless the two are not carefully controlled, Taiwan could very quickly return to the White Terror era.
Having left the committee, it is my firm belief that the war has yet to be won, and the journey is not yet done.
As I say farewell to the Ministry of Justice, I feel deeply anxious for my fellow Taiwanese. Unless something changes, I might just see you in the streets.
Peng Wen-cheng is a professor at the National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Journalism and a former member and spokesman for the Prosecutors Evaluation Committee.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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