Taipei Detention House Deputy Director Lee Ta-chu (李大竹) told a press conference yesterday that Financial Times (FT) reporter Robin Kwong had not been given permission to interview former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) last week.
Lee also apologized for the center’s negligence.
His statement came in response to questions over the center’s conduct after an interview with Chen appeared in the London-based newspaper on Monday.
Chen has been detained at the Tucheng (土城), Taipei County, center since late December. Kwong interviewed him in the presence of a prison guard.
Lee said regulations stipulate that reporters must apply to the detention center to interview a detainee, and interviews can only be conducted after official permission has been given and the detainee agrees to talk to reporters. Kwong had not done so, he said.
Chen told Kwong that he was innocent, adding that the case against him was a political witchhunt launched by President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.
Government Information Office (GIO) Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) accused the FT of deliberately defying Taiwan’s laws.
He said the Ministry of Justice was mulling how to punish the detention center, Chen and the newspaper.
“I regret [Kwong’s move]. Such a case is unbelievable. I believe international media outlets would pass their own judgment regarding whether [Chen] is really a democracy activist,” Su said.
“We will contact international media outlets and clarify things that are untrue and that may tarnish Taiwan’s image. We hope they will report correct information we provide to them,” he said.
KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) said the justice ministry should punish officials at the detention center for neglecting their duties.
The GIO should also protest to the FT, he said.
“We should also investigate whether the reporter [wrote the story] because he took money from Chen Shui-bian,” Chiu said, calling for the government to make Kwong persona non grata.
KMT Legislator Lee Ching-hua (李慶華) said Chen had “crossed the line.”
“Maybe next he would hold a book signing [at the center] or even call out [to talk shows],” the lawmaker said.
Meanwhile, Association of Taiwan Journalists president Leon Chuang (莊豐嘉) said if any blame was to be apportioned, it should be the considered the fault of Chen’s office for sneaking Kwong into the center without permission.
“Reporters everywhere are the same. We will do anything and everything to cover the news, especially from a detainee,” said Chuang, adding that Kwong was merely “doing his job.”
Chuang, however, said that by favoring the foreign media, Chen’s office had probably angered local reporters because it might indicate a mistrust of the Taiwanese press by Chen’s staff.
By granting an exclusive interview to the FT, Chen’s office might reap short-term benefits, but will end up paying for it in the long run, he said.
Max Hirsch, president of the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club, refused to comment on the matter yesterday. Kwong was unavailable for comment.
Cable channel Formosa TV reported that Kwong said the entire interview was set up by Chen’s office.
Chiang Chih-ming (江志銘), the secretary of Chen’s office, said the meeting should not be considered an official interview. The office agreed to set up the meeting because Kwong simply wanted to get to know Chen’s thoughts, he said.