Tue, Mar 19, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Judges failing to protect Taiwan

The government and the judiciary appear to be taking espionage lightly, judging by a recent string of cases.

The New Taipei District Court on Thursday sentenced retired lieutenant colonels Lin Shih-pin (林世斌) and Pien Peng (邊鵬) to six months in prison for spying for China, adding that time behind bars could be commuted a fine of NT$180,000 each.

The same day, the Supreme Court upheld the Taiwan High Court’s ruling in April last year of a 14-month sentence for Chinese national Zhou Hongxu (周泓旭) for contravening the National Security Act (國家安全法) by recruiting people for a Chinese spy network in Taiwan, in what was the final ruling in the case.

Earlier this month, the Taipei District Court granted New Party Taipei City Councilor Ho Han-ting’s (侯漢廷) appeal for a lifting of a travel ban so that he could join Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) delegation on a trip to the US, even though Ho was indicted in June last year on espionage charges in connection with Zhou’s case, for allegedly funneling money from China to infiltrate Taiwan’s military and connect with Taiwanese youth organizations.

The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office fought the request, but the court allowed Ho to pay a deposit of NT$100,000 to cover the nine-day trip, subject to confiscation if he does not return home by Monday next week.

Dumbfounding does not even begin to encompass the sheer absurdity of these decisions and the judges’ seeming ignorance of, or lack of awareness of, national security concerns.

As amazing as such lenient decisions are, the courts appear to be simply following precedent, considering the case of retired major general Hsu Nai-chuan (許乃權), who was involved in the largest espionage case in the nation’s history.

Hsu was convicted of leaking secrets to the Chinese Communist Party, and yet he received a prison sentence of just two years and 10 months and was still entitled to receive 70 percent of his pension after he was released from prison in September 2017.

Even though his crime damaged national security, taxpayers must pay him a monthly pension of about NT$75,000 — it would have been more, but the Legislative Yuan in 2016 amended the Act of Military Service for Officers and Noncommissioned Officers of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍軍官士官服役條例) to reduce the pensions in such cases by 30 percent in a bid to deter active duty personnel and retired officers from leaking military secrets or spying for China.

The judiciary and the legislative and executive branches appear willing to turn a blind eye to national security threats, thereby conniving with those who commit treason by spying, leaking classified information or otherwise breaching national security.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) last week held a meeting of the National Security Council and emphasized the need for the government “to prevent China from manipulating domestic discussion, infiltrating society, and stealing classified information from the national defense and other core industries, and protect national security and social stability.”

However, Tsai will struggle to convince the public that the government is doing all it can to safeguard national security and deter threats if those convicted of espionage or damaging national security, or indicted in such cases, are shown such indulgence.

If Tsai means what she said at the meeting, the government must quickly follow through with concrete actions, such as amending the National Security Act (國家安全法), the Classified National Security Information Protection Act (國家機密保護法) and the Criminal Code to close legal loopholes that allow people convicted of spying for China to avoid treason charges.

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