Sun, Nov 30, 2008 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Alliance against death penalty fetes successes

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty director Lin Hsin-yi, right, and fellow activists march in Paris after the third World Congress against the Death Penalty in February last year.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TAEDP

When local nongovernmental organizations teamed up to create an alliance against capital punishment five years ago, the implementation of the death penalty in Taiwan was still very secretive.

“At the beginning, it was very difficult for us even to find out how many people were on death row,” Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) said in an interview with the Taipei Times.

“The little information we were able to obtain came from our own efforts. We found information from newspapers and made a list,” Lin said.

This method of gathering statistics is more reminiscent of authoritarian countries that do not release such information — not democracies — Lin said.

It took a few years, but eventually “the government became willing [to confirm our figures],” Lin said.

The alliance is celebrating five years of campaigning and research that has paid off in this and other ways. Today, it will hold a vigil in Taipei to mark the progress made — and the work that still has to be done to reach its ultimate goal.

But when Jinan Church lights up on Zhongshan S Road tonight, it will also be one of hundreds of buildings worldwide to honor Tuscany on Cities for Life Day, 222 years after the Italian region became the first in Europe to abolish capital punishment.

In Taiwan, which may seem like it is on the road to scrapping the death penalty, abolition is still a far way off, said the TAEDP, which sees Cities for Life Day as an opportunity to raise public awareness.

The government first spoke out against the death penalty in 2000, when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) took office.

Eight years later, legislators are no closer to removing capital punishment from the books.

But things aren’t as bleak as they appear, Lin said.

From another perspective, the death penalty is in a state of limbo, with no executions having taken place in the past three years — despite the fact that 31 prisoners are awaiting execution, while an estimated 100 ongoing court cases could result in such rulings.

The TAEDP and its member organizations — including the Legal Aid Foundation and the Judicial Reform Foundation — have pieced together a picture of the death penalty system in Taiwan, examining court cases and unearthing problems with the judicial process.

But there are still many blanks to fill, many questions left unanswered, Lin said.

The TAEDP wants the government to release demographic statistics, for example, that would help determine whether the death penalty is used disproportionately against the poor and uneducated, as has been observed in other countries.

“The Ministry of Justice must show enough information to the public — not only how many people or who they are. Maybe they should tell us more: We want to know what kind of people are more frequently sentenced to death,” Lin said.

The vigil scheduled for tonight follows upon a series of activities organized by civic groups and the representative offices of three European countries to discuss obstacles to abolishing the death penalty.

Earlier this month, the French Institute in Taipei, the German Institute in Taipei and the British Trade and Cultural Office organized forums that brought together legal experts from their countries and Taiwan.

“If a person condemned to death is innocent, all of society ... is collectively guilty,” French Institute in Taipei Director Patrick Bonneville told a seminar on Nov. 3 organized by the Taiwan Law Society, National Taipei University and the European Economic and Trade Office.

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