Mon, Dec 13, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Human rights group wants death penalty abolished

By Cody Yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Human rights and legal advocacy groups yesterday urged the abolition of the death penalty and judicial reform to incorporate more humane perspectives into the judicial system.

In a panel discussion held by the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, human rights lawyers and Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), a member of the Hsichih Trio, testified that the flawed legal system can lead to wrongful convictions and executions.

"The bureaucratic culture among judges leaves no room for [professional] self-reflection about the possibility of wrongful convictions. Some judges tend to overlook the importance of human rights. In their eyes, all they see are cases to be processed, not human beings put on the stands," said Joseph Lin (林永頌), chairman of Legal Aid Foundation's Taipei branch.

Lin, a top-notch human rights lawyer who has provided legal assistance to numerous death-row inmates, said that due to a lack of legal regulations governing criminal evidence, criminal courts may declare defendants guilty without an investigation or evidence of a weapon. Another flaw exists in the police interrogation system, said Lin, in which police statements can be easily manipulated by the interrogation task force.

"The sad truth is that many judges and prosecutors have no idea how some statements are produced and how some suspects are mistreated until they review interrogation recordings. They simply can't believe their eyes," Lin said.

Su, who was imprisoned for over a decade, stated that many judges were not meticulous in making their decisions and held preconceived judgments about a defendant's guilt, without even carrying out proper investigations.

"One time in court, I was trying to defend myself on a murder charge, and there was the associate judge dozing off in his seat," Su said.

Not until last year's judicial reform did the legal system abide by the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Su said he was glad to see the change since during his personal legal battle he had to prove his innocence under the presumption that he was guilty.

Yeh Chih-hsiang (葉啟祥), the editor-in-chief of Taiwan Church News who worked alongside Su's father for many years, considered the death penalty a form of retribution and a crime prevention tactic.

"Our society needs more room for tolerance and forgiveness. Victims' families may not necessarily want to see offenders punished, but the truth about what really happened [to the victims]," Yeh said.

Yeh said many death row inmates come from poor families. Su was a classic example; his father was an uneducated man who ran a cafeteria. In order to prove his son's innocence, he read the Major Laws (六法全書) and devoted all his effort and time to getting his son out of prison. Strained and exhausted, Su's father died of cancer a few days after Su was released from prison.

"A study shows that the majority of death row inmates in the US are blacks who come from poor families. Until our judicial system can be entirely error-proof, the death penalty should not exist," said Jerry Cheng (鄭文龍), the Legal Aid Foundation's general secretary.

In January last year, after the Taiwan High Court overturned the trio's murder convictions, Su and two others were released from prison.

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