Nation keeps death penalty, but reduces executions

PHASING OUT: The government hasn't been able to fulfill its goal of abolishing the death penalty. But it has lowered the number of people it actually executes instead

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mon, Jan 02, 2006 - Page 3

Of 17 prisoners sentenced to death last year, just three were executed -- suggesting that the government is trying to legally retain the death penalty, but in practice carry out as few executions as possible.

Since taking power in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have promised to end the death penalty. But with opinion polls conducted in recent years by the ministry showing that around 80 percent oppose the abolition of the death penalty, the government has been deterred from drafting any amendments to the Criminal Code.

However, the government has also been criticized for making little effort to educate and persuade the public on the matter.

Additionally, the ministry's polls indicate that opposition to the abolition of the death penalty drops to 40 percent if complementary measures -- such as sentencing limits and a threshold for parole for life imprisonment -- are also taken. But the government and the legislature have failed to get any such amendments approved.

But despite its inability to abolish capital punishment, the ministry has proposed policy goals to reduce the scope of cases in which the death penalty can be applied.

"The Supreme Prosecutor's Office has filed extraordinary appeals to the Supreme Court for prisoners sentenced to death, making every effort to keep them alive," Justice Minister Morley Shih (施茂林) told the Taipei Times.

"For those whose extraordinary appeals were rejected by the Supreme Court, the MOJ has also delayed their executions," Shih added.

Such appeals and delays explain why only three out of 17 criminals sentenced to death last year were actually executed, Shih said.

The ministry is also considering introducing a bill that would keep criminals given the death sentence under observation in jail for two years, with those who express full remorse for their crimes being eligible for life imprisonment.

By introducing such a law, Taiwan could join other countries which retain the death penalty in law but have virtually abolished it in practice. Many such countries have not carried out executions for years and are believed to have policies or established practice that prevents executions from taking place.

Shih added that the ministry is drafting amendments to the Criminal Code, which mandates the death penalty for some types of marine piracy. If that part of the law is revised, their would be no mandatory capital sentencing left in the Criminal Code.

Another offense that carried a mandatory death sentence -- kidnap leading to murder -- was amended in 2002 to carry a punishment of life imprisonment.

Despite the ministry's plans, last week it executed to brothers from Kaohsiung, Lin Meng-kai (林盟凱) and Lin Hsin-hung (林信宏). Those executions triggered a protest from the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, a non-governmental organization.

The Lin brothers were sentenced to death for cruelly murdering one man and critically injuring the man's brother, both the Lins' neighbors, over a trivial matter four years ago.

"Because the two Lins expressed no remorse during their trials, and even said they would take revenge on the victims' families if they were able to leave jail, the Supreme Court rejected their extraordinary appeal in June and the MOJ could not find other legal avenues of appeal," added Shih.

Last January, the ministry executed Wang Chung-hsing (王中興) for dumping six Chinese women into the Taiwan Strait while he was being chased by the coast guard. All six drowned.

According to the ministry's records, the nation's annual number of executions has been decreasing for years. Thirty-two prisoners were executed in 1998, a number that shrank to just ten in 201, and only three each in 2004 and last year.

Shih said that Taiwan might not be able to abolish the death penalty soon, because a majority of the public believes that it deters crime more effectively than other punishments, and that without the death penalty, relatives of the victims of cruel crimes would not be given justice.

According to the global human-rights group Amnesty International, "while a total of 122 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, 74 other countries and territories retain and use the death penalty, but the number of countries which actually execute prisoners in any one year is much smaller."

The organization said that based on publicly-available reports, at least 3,400 people are executed in China each year, but that the true number is thought to be much higher.

In March 2004 a delegate at the National People's Congress said that "nearly 10,000" people are executed every year in China, the organization added.

Agruments for an against the death penalty


*The existence of the death penalty is the only way to truly deter criminals and maintain social order.

*The death penalty is the only way to comfort members of a victim's family and society at large.

*The human rights of both the victim and the accused must be taken into consideration. Issuing the death penalty for heinous crimes is the only way to meet social expectations. Would a lesser verdict than the death penalty for kidnapper and killer Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興) or the killer or killers of former Taoyuan County chief Liu Pang-yu (劉邦友) and seven others be acceptable to social?

*Society must be fair and just, If the death penalty cannot be applied to someone who has killed many people, this fairness and justice is lost.


*The death penalty does not solve the crime problem. Both local and international studies have found that instituting the death penalty does not have an impact on social order, and in particular does not reduce the rate of serious crime.

*It is different to avoid making mistakes in investigations, and inevitably some people are mistakenly charged with crimes. Having a death penalty means some innocent people may be put to death.

*Executing a criminal is a primitive form of revenge that does not help society advance.

*No one, not even the state, has the right to kill. Respect for life must also include respect for the lives of killers.

*The abolishment of the death penalty is an international trend, and it is beneficial to a country’ image and diplomacy.