The conditions of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) confinement in prison are “unacceptable” and have affected his physical as well as mental health, US-based medical experts said yesterday.
Ken Yoneda and Charles Whitcomb, professors at the University of California at Davis, and Joseph Lin, who sits on the board of trustees at the UC Davis Foundation, told the Taipei Times that Chen’s health and the conditions of his confinement were “disturbing” and an issue of human rights and humanitarianism.
The three professors visited Chen, who is serving a 17-and-a-half-year prison term for corruption, at Taipei Prison on Monday and spent about an hour with him.
“We are very concerned about his health. We feel that the conditions of his confinement are affecting his health, physical and emotional, and that the living conditions of his prison cell are very severe,” said Yoneda, a professor of clinical internal medicine.
Chen’s treatment is worse than an average inmate’s, not because he is a former president, but because he is allowed to spend time out of his cell for only an hour per day, which leaves him with almost no interaction with other individuals, he added.
While they could not examine Chen with any medical instrument, Yoneda said that, as trained physicians, they could observe Chen’s condition by watching the way he moves, walks and talks, and by shaking hands with him.
What they saw did not give them grounds for optimism, despite their opinion that two hospitals — Taoyuan Hospital and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital — had done an excellent job of examining Chen.
Chen’s drop in living standards, which he described during their meeting as “falling from heaven to hell,” along with the confinement has had a great effect on Chen’s psyche and emotions, and it could possibly eventually affect his mental health, he said.
Chen said he would prefer to have National Taiwan University Hospital re-examine his health because of his familiarity with the institution, Yoneda said.
“The former president feels that his life is in jeopardy, and he’s worried about himself and his family. He feels that he cannot do normal things — even walking at a normal pace or greater than a normal pace — that he used to be able to do,” Yoneda said.
Yoneda and Whitcomb, a professor of cardiovascular medicine, said they feared it would be difficult to “reverse Chen’s condition” even if his prison conditions were improved, adding that if the conditions were not corrected, Chen could possibly develop anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lin, a Taiwanese-American, said the trip between Sunday and today had been arranged because the Taiwanese-American community was paying close attention to the issue and because US Representative Dan Lungren had called on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission to investigate Chen’s imprisonment.
The professors stressed the impartiality of their visit as private citizens and that the trip was not affiliated with any political party in Taiwan. They also expressed their appreciation that the Taiwanese government made the visit possible.
They intend to submit an unbiased report to the Tom Lantos Commission via congressional connections or to the House’s Taiwan Caucus, they said.
Lin asked the US government to show compassion by paying more attention to Chen’s conditions and “to do something that is right and to continue to be a beacon for human rights” as it has always taken pride in doing.