A report highlighting the way unfair trials can lead to the death penalty was released by rights groups in Taipei on Tuesday, as part of an effort to attract attention to their call for the abolition of capital punishment.
The report, jointly released by Amnesty International, the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network -(ADPAN) and the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, detailed eight cases of people on death row in Asia and their struggles to secure a fair trial.
Despite a trend toward the abolition of capital punishment in Asia, 14 countries in the region still retain the death penalty, which carries with it the risk of miscarriage of justice and wrongful execution, said Louise Vischer, an ADPAN coordinator who spent a year compiling the report.
The cases detailed in the report come from Taiwan, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, -Pakistan and Singapore.
Six of the cases involved convictions that relied on confessions extracted through torture, including the case of Taiwanese death row inmate Chiu Ho-shun (邱和順), who has been on trial for nearly 23 years on charges of abducting and murdering a schoolboy in December 1987.
In July, the Supreme Court ended Chiu’s lengthy trial by upholding his death sentence for that crime.
Documented video and audio recordings prove that Chiu was tortured by police during a four-month period of detention to extract a confession from him that was later presented in court as key evidence, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
Catherine Baber, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program, said no judicial system can exclude the possibility of error.
“If we are to take [action] against the execution of the innocent, the only solution is the abolition of the death penalty,” she said.
Asked how Taiwan could avoid cases like that of Chiu in the future, Vischer said judicial reform is the key.
Judges have to be independent, free from the influence of public opinion and politics she said, adding that concrete material evidence should also be required in any trial.
“Material evidence was lacking in Chiu’s case and it seems to be lacking in many other cases,” Vischer said.
Another issue that needs to be dealt with is coerced confessions, she said, adding that although Taiwan has introduced a law to address that, more work is needed to deal with cases, such as Chiu’s, that happened before the law was passed.
Taiwan ended a more than four-year moratorium on executions when four death row inmates were executed in April last year and another five in March, drawing criticism from the EU and human rights advocates.