Human rights and judicial reform activists yesterday accused the High Court of bias after the latest ruling against three defendants in a combined case involving two murders.
The Judicial Reform Foundation and other groups said the case was based on disputed confessions, parts of which were extracted through torture.
In 1987, insurance agent Ko Hung Yu-lan (柯洪玉蘭) and a child, Lu Cheng (陸正), were kidnapped and murdered separately in Hsinchu.
Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順), Lin Kun-ming (林坤明) and Wu Shu-chen (吳淑貞) were arrested along with another nine suspects and soon confessed during police questioning, which led to their prosecution.
Twenty-two years later, their sentences have yet to be finalized in what is Taiwan’s longest-running criminal proceedings. In 11 trials, Chiou has been sentenced to death and Lin and Wu sentenced to prison, with the latest ruling handed down last month.
The three have appealed repeatedly based in part on the police’s use of torture.
The High Court has handed down convictions each time, despite recognizing that the torture took place. The Supreme Court has consistently rejected the High Court’s rulings.
“It seems that our judges consider the defendants guilty until proven innocent,” said Wellington Koo (顧立雄), an attorney and executive member of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights. “It seems once they get a confession from one or some of the defendants, [the defendants] cannot get [cleared].”
Koo said that during the legal process for the three of the 12 defendants whose cases are still at court, the court revised the confessions several times and overlooked contradictory testimonies.
In the case of Ko Hung, the court never looked into the differences in testimony concerning what happened after she was kidnapped and how she was killed, the activists said in a joint statement.
The court did not clarify why several relatives of Ko Hung testified that they saw her in the evening on the day she was kidnapped, while the defendants said they had kidnapped her in the early afternoon.
In the case of Lu, when seven fingerprints on a piece of evidence did not match any of the defendants, the court ruling only said the defendants left no fingerprints. The ruling did not explain whose fingerprints were found on the evidence, the statement said.
The statement also mentioned phone calls to Lu’s parents asking for ransom that the defendants were said to have made.
“It [the ruling] failed to explain why the analysis of voiceprints from 13 calls asking for ransom did not match the voiceprints of any of the defendants,” the statement said.
Investigations by the Control Yuan and the judiciary have found that the defendants were tortured.
“Torture was clearly recorded during police questioning and the officials involved were impeached by the Control Yuan, while officers involved in the torture were found guilty by the court and sentenced to prison,” Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) said. “Yet the Court only deleted the part of the confessions that were clearly the result of torture, while keeping other parts.”
Judicial Reform Foundation executive director Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正) said the detention system should be reformed.
“The defendants have been detained for 22 years,” Lin Feng-jeng said. “Whether they’re proven innocent or guilty, they will have to fight another battle to get compensation.”
“I think there should be a regulation allowing defendants to be freed after a certain number of years if the court is incapable of proving them guilty,” he said.
Kao Yung-cheng (高涌誠), deputy convener of the alliance and a lawyer, said: “Even a country like Myanmar has a rule that no one can be detained for more than five years before a final verdict is handed down.”
“We’re behind even an authoritarian state in this respect,” Kao said.
Kao said this may have to do with the judiciary’s culture of seniority: “It’s a tradition to respect those who are more senior ... So of course, no judge is brave enough to overturn a ruling by their seniors.”
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