Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Controversial amnesty bill passes

PARTIAL PROGRESS The pan-blue version of a bill to allow prisoners serving 18 months or less passed but two pension bills, one for farmers, remained in limbo

By Loa Iok-sin and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The Legislative Yuan yesterday passed a long-debated commutation bill granting amnesty to prisoners serving sentences of 18 months or less, among other commutation measures.

Although the pan-green camp supported the Cabinet's version of the commutation bill, the pan-blue version was passed only after a concesus was reached.

Earlier this year, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) proposed an amnesty plan in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law and the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident.

This was a civilian uprising against the then-KMT government that led to a bloody massacre.

Acting on Chen's directive, the Cabinet then drafted a commutation statute and submitted it for legislative review.

Although both the pan-green and pan-blue camps agreed on the commutation bill, disputes between the two camps still existed about the scope of offenses that would be eligible and on what grounds the commutation should be applied.

The draft bill proposed by the Cabinet called for an amnesty for prisoners sentenced to less than a year, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus wanted to extend the amnesty to include prisoners sentenced to up to a year and half.

"Eighteen months is within the range of the lowest degree of jail time by legal definition," KMT Legislator Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) said in a telephone interview.

However, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator William Lai (賴清德), suggested that the KMT proposal was tailored to benefit KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅).

Chiu was sentenced to 14 months in prison for violent conduct during a protest in Kaohsiung following the 2004 presidential election.

Chiu started his sentence in April.

In addition, the KMT caucus wanted to exclude commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 228 Incident as a reason for the commutation.

"We believe that the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law should certainly be commemorated; however, mentioning the 228 Incident is too politically sensitive," Hsieh explained.

Besides the amnesty, other measures in the commutation bill included cutting death sentences to life in prison, cutting life in prison to 20 years in prison and cutting other sentences and fines in half, according to the passed bill.

The legislature also passed unanimously a non-binding resolution requesting a presidential amnesty for "rice bomber" Yang Ju-men (楊儒門).

Yang was arrested in November 2004 after he sprinkled small amounts of rice in his homemade explosives.

Nobody was injured in Yang's bombing campaign.

Yang said during his trial that he had resorted to the bombing campaign to attract the government's attention and highlight the plight of local farmers after the nation's accession to the WTO in 2002.

Meanwhile, the legislature was also scheduled to review amendments to the Temporary Act for Welfare Subsidies to the Elderly (敬老福利生活津貼暫行條例) and to the Temporary Statute Regarding the Welfare Pension of Senior Farmers (老年農民福利津貼暫行條例).

At the request of the DPP's legislative caucus, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) decided to refer the two amendments to cross-party negotiation rather than have them go through second and third readings.

Pan-blue lawmakers wanted the monthly pension for the elderly to be raised NT$3,000 to NT$6,000.

This amount that would cost the government an additional NT$29.5 billion (US$887 million) a year.

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