Sun, Jul 22, 2012 - Page 3 News List

US activist takes up Chen’s case

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in WASHINGTON

Founder of the Human Rights Action Center John Healey has written an open letter to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) appealing for better prison conditions and healthcare for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

“In the United States we have prosecuted and convicted politicians from the most local to national offices, but we do not systematically deny those people access to healthcare due to political differences,” Healey said in a letter carried by the Huffington Post.

Healey was executive director of Amnesty International USA for 12 years.

His Washington-based Human Rights Action Center works to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“The political differences between your party’s positions and those of Mr Chen’s party should not be used as a punitive weapon,” Healey said.

“In a functioning democracy, such behavior is an affront to the very principles that allow people to give mandates to governments,” he said.

There is increasing concern in the US — including in the US Congress — about the conditions under which Chen is serving his long sentence for corruption.

“If [former] president Chen’s health deteriorates much further, the choice may become more stark between a pardon or his death while in custody,” Healey wrote.

“Both of those outcomes would present stronger challenges to the Taiwanese legal system or the legitimacy of inter-party political transitions there,” he wrote.

Healey said that Chen spends 23 hours a day in a cell that is only about 2m by 3m and which he shares with another prisoner.

He asked if it would “really harm the interests of Taiwan” if Chen was provided with good healthcare and a larger cell.

“We would hope that Taiwan would have a strong commitment to the human rights that its people have valued and tried to protect, and that all of its citizens would be treated with the basics of medical access and livable space allowed,” Healey said in the letter.

He ended: “Denying such fundamental respect to nonviolent convicts is particularly galling. The people of Taiwan deserve a greater legacy and an adherence to the principles of decency. All humankind does.”

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