Over the past few months, I have observed a series of expressions of concern about the physical and mental health of former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
As a former US diplomat and former chairman of the American Insititue in Taiwan, I am not taking sides in internal political debates nor taking a position on the politics of the situation.
Purely on humanitarian grounds, I am now convinced that the time has come to join those many voices, both in Taiwan and overseas, who call for Chen to be granted parole on medical grounds.
I have looked closely at the terms of his imprisonment and at his physical ailments, and conclude that a release on medical parole is warranted. Many city and county councils in Taiwan agree on this and have adopted resolutions calling for medical parole for the former president. Among these voices is Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who has courageously spoken out in favor of medical parole.
In the international media, Chen’s case has also become more prominent: On Oct. 16, the London-based The Economist published an article on its Web site describing recent developments in the case titled “Terms of Imprisonment,” which concluded that the case of the former leader has “brought public scrutiny to his harsh treatment and even public sympathy for his plight.”
The article also made reference to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), saying that the case is “also undermining Mr Ma’s now dangerously low popularity, not to mention faith in this young democracy’s system of justice.”
After Chen was hospitalized on Sept. 12, it has become clear that he suffers not only from a whole series of physical ailments brought about by the conditions of his imprisonment, but is also showing signs of severe depression. Doctors have recommended sustained psychiatric treatment, which is not possible in prison, but the authorities have not given the green light for the medical parole that would make that possible.
Medical parole would also help heal the nation and get past the political divide that exists in Taiwan today. There is precedent for this in other democratic countries.
In the US, no matter what one’s political ideology or views on former US president Richard Nixon were, US citizens understood that then-US president Gerald Ford pardoned him to remove the haze of Watergate and get the country back on track. The overriding concern was what was best for the US to heal and get past a difficult, divisive time.
Similarly, no matter what his opinion of his predecessor may be, President Ma could engage his second and final term by taking humanitarian action — something all sides in Taiwan, and the international community, could agree on.
Nat Bellocchi was chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 through 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.