Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Nation keeps death penalty, but reduces executions

PHASING OUT The government hasn't been able to fulfill its goal of abolishing the death penalty. But it has lowered the number of people it actually executes instead

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Of 17 prisoners sentenced to death last year, just three were executed -- suggesting that the government is trying to legally retain the death penalty, but in practice carry out as few executions as possible.

Since taking power in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have promised to end the death penalty. But with opinion polls conducted in recent years by the ministry showing that around 80 percent oppose the abolition of the death penalty, the government has been deterred from drafting any amendments to the Criminal Code.

However, the government has also been criticized for making little effort to educate and persuade the public on the matter.

Additionally, the ministry's polls indicate that opposition to the abolition of the death penalty drops to 40 percent if complementary measures -- such as sentencing limits and a threshold for parole for life imprisonment -- are also taken. But the government and the legislature have failed to get any such amendments approved.

But despite its inability to abolish capital punishment, the ministry has proposed policy goals to reduce the scope of cases in which the death penalty can be applied.

"The Supreme Prosecutor's Office has filed extraordinary appeals to the Supreme Court for prisoners sentenced to death, making every effort to keep them alive," Justice Minister Morley Shih (施茂林) told the Taipei Times.

"For those whose extraordinary appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court, the MOJ has also delayed their executions," Shih added.

Such appeals and delays explain why only three out of 17 criminals sentenced to death last year were actually executed, Shih said.

The ministry is also considering introducing a bill that would keep criminals given the death sentence under observation in jail for two years, with those who express full remorse for their crimes being eligible for life imprisonment.

By introducing such a law, Taiwan could join other countries which retain the death penalty in law but have virtually abolished it in practice. Many such countries have not carried out executions for years and are believed to have policies or established practice that prevents executions from taking place.

Shih added that the ministry is drafting amendments to the Criminal Code, which mandates the death penalty for some types of marine piracy. If that part of the law is revised, their would be no mandatory capital sentencing left in the Criminal Code.

Another offense that carried a mandatory death sentence -- kidnap leading to murder -- was amended in 2002 to carry a punishment of life imprisonment.

Despite the ministry's plans, last week it executed to brothers from Kaohsiung, Lin Meng-kai (林盟凱) and Lin Hsin-hung (林信宏). Those executions triggered a protest from the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, a non-governmental organization.

The Lin brothers were sentenced to death for cruelly murdering one man and critically injuring the man's brother, both the Lins' neighbors, over a trivial matter four years ago.

"Because the two Lins expressed no remorse during their trials, and even said they would take revenge on the victims' families if they were able to leave jail, the Supreme Court rejected their extraordinary appeal in June and the MOJ could not find other legal avenues of appeal," added Shih.

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