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Sun, Jul 08, 2001 - Page 2 News List

Family sues over `white terror' death

MYSTERY A local professor was said to have jumped to his death after being questioned by the notorious Taiwan Garrison General Headquarters. Twenty years on, however, the mystery surrounding that night has prompted his family to file a civil suit


The family of professor Chen Wen-cheng (陳文成), believed to have been murdered for political reasons in 1981, have filed a civil suit for murder against several officials of the Taiwan Garrison General Headquarters (TGGH, 警備總部) in the hope of finding an explanation for his mysterious death.

Chen's death, together with the murders of former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung's (林義雄) family and of Henry Liu (劉宜良), remains one of the more notorious unsolved mysteries of the "white terror" perpetrated by the KMT government while Taiwan was under martial law.

Since Chen was, at the time of his death, an assistant professor at a US university, his demise attracted international attention.

Concerned that any interview might unduly influence the lawsuit, Chen's older sister, Chen Pao-yueh (陳寶月), who filed the suit, declined to discuss the case. But according to Chinese-language media, her family has sought an explanation from the government for 20 years.

Their father, Chen Ting-mao (陳庭茂), had wished to discover the facts surrounding Chen's death before he died.

The family had expected that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who often spoke of Chen's case during his campaign to become a Taipei City councilor in 1981, would help after he took office, but, disappointed, they decided to act by themselves.

One of Chen Pao-yueh's attorneys, Lee Sheng-hsiung (李勝雄), emphasized that the purpose of the suit is not to punish anybody but to establish the facts behind Chen's mysterious death.

"We expect to learn more information about Chen's death from the five defendants' accounts and TGGH materials obtained through the prosecutor's investigation," Lee said.

Chen had been a vocal critic of the KMT government at Taiwanese student union meetings in the US, which brought him to the attention of the government.

Government officials claimed that he had admitted setting up 10 foundations in the US to raise money for Formosa magazine, a dissident journal, but Chen's friends were doubtful of the claim.

Chen's body was found at National Taiwan University on the morning of July 3, 1981, after the TGGH had interrogated him.

The body had thirteen broken ribs, a broken spine and numerous other internal and external injuries consistent with his having been severely beaten.

A US forensic pathologist, Cyril Wecht, who traveled to Taiwan to investigate the case, concluded that Chen's death was caused by being dropped from the fifth floor fire escape of the university research library while unconscious and that his death was a homicide.

The garrison headquarters initially claimed that Chen had committed suicide because he feared being arrested for his crimes, but changed its account the following day, saying he had died in an accident. Chen's family and friends, however, refuse to believe that Chen would commit suicide.

Chen was an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the US, and his death attracted much attention and pressure from the international community.

Republican congressman Jim Leach proposed a congressional investigation into Taiwanese espionage in the US.

The State Department held investigative hearings in July and August, 1981. The president of Carnegie Mellon University, Richard Cyert, sent a message to the president at the time, Chiang Ching-Kuo (蔣經國), stating his belief that Chen had been murdered and accusing Chiang's government of using Taiwanese students to spy on their fellow students in the US.

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