The Executive Yuan yesterday denied there was any discrepancy between remarks made by the Executive Yuan and the Presidential Office with regard to whether commutations would be granted next year to mark the Republic of China’s (ROC) 100th anniversary.
“It’s an issue that still under discussion within the government,” Executive Yuan Spokesman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said. “After the Ministry of Justice [MOJ] evaluates the policy and presents its suggestions and supplementary measures to the president, the president will decide whether to do it or not and the premier will respect the president’s decision.”
Chiang made the remarks in response to Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling’s (管碧玲) allegation that Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) had infringed upon the president’s authority by suggesting the government would implement a commutation plan.
Kuan was referring to remarks made by Wu on the legislative floor on Friday that the government is considering granting a commutation of sentences to offenders of minor crimes to mark the ROC’s 100th anniversary next year. Chiang yesterday said Wu did not say the government would grant amnesties, pardons and sentence commutations next year, but was merely asking lawmakers for comment on the subject.
Chen Yung-feng (陳永豐), director of the Presidential Office’s Public Affairs Office, yesterday said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) “hasn’t ever given any consideration or thought to amnesty or pardons.”
“As to whether the government will grant sentence commutations to offenders of minor crimes as Premier Wu said in the legislature, the Executive Yuan can present its proposal to the president for consideration if it deems it necessary,” Chen said.
According to Article 40 of the Constitution, the president is entitled to, in accordance with law, exercise the powers of amnesty, pardon, remission of sentence and restitution of civil and military officers.
The president is also entitled by Article 6 of the Amnesty Act (赦免法) to order the Executive Yuan to have a regulatory agency study whether to grant amnesty, pardons, remission of sentences and restitution of civil and military officers.
When approached by the press yesterday for comment on the apparent contradiction between his comments on Friday and those of the Presidential Office, Wu said: “The Presidential Office did not say no to the issue, as it’s not yet a finalized policy.”
The MOJ yesterday said it would submit a review on commutation that will be provided to the president as a reference to decide whether commutations should be granted next year.
An anonymous MOJ official said the ministry has completed an initial review, which stated that the nation’s prisons are crowded with more than 65,000 inmates.
A commutation would help resolve the problem of overpopulation, the official said, adding that the ministry also thought a commutation could reflect the government’s lenience.
Judicial reform activists and academics, however, expressed reservations about the idea.
Cheng Jui-lung (鄭瑞隆), chairman of the Graduate Institute of Criminology at National Chung Cheng University, said the government should come up with complementary measures when charting a commutation plan to avoid causing serious social problems.
Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正), executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation, said that if the government sets inmates free through commutation, but fails to help ex-convicts reform and adapt to society, a vicious cycle of repeat offences will be created.
The last time the government declared a mass commutation was in 2007, when then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did so to mark the 20th anniversary of the lifting of 38 years of Martial Law in 1987.
The amnesty then was granted to prisoners serving sentences of 18 months or less. The legislature at the time also passed a non-binding resolution asking the president to pardon convicted “rice bomber” Yang Ju-men (楊儒門), who had been sentenced in 2005 to seven-and-a-half years in jail and was fined NT$100,000 for planting a total of 17 bombs in parks, telephone booths and trains beginning in November 2003. Yang was released in 2007.
During his trial, Yang said he resorted to the bombing campaign to attract government attention to the plight of farmers after the nation’s accession to the WTO in 2002.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG AND CNA
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