Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did not receive a fair trial and could be seen as a de facto political prisoner, a fact-finding mission sent by a Taiwanese-American organization concluded in its preliminary findings after a two-week investigation in Taiwan.
The way Chen, who is serving an 18-and-a-half-year sentence for corruption and is currently in hospital receiving medical treatment for various ailments, has been treated in prison and the way his trial was handled have not been seen even in some dictatorships, the two-member mission told the Taipei Times in an interview.
Michael Richardson and Mary Loan traveled to Taiwan to conduct a “truth-seeking” inquiry on behalf of the Formosan Association for Human Rights (FAHR). They left on Friday.
During their two-week visit, they met with Chen in his hospital room and conducted interviews with pan-green camp legislators, Chen’s attorneys, Chen’s medical team and human rights activists, Richardson said.
Richardson said a formal report will not be ready for several weeks, but that preliminary findings clearly establish three ways in which Chen did not receive a fair trial.
First, there are various structural problems with Taiwan’s justice system because having “no jury trials, politically appointed judges and the ability of prosecutors to appeal not-guilty verdicts all serve to create opportunity for judicial abuse.”
Second, a number of unusual and irregular procedural events cast serious doubt on the fairness of the former president’s trial, including the changing of judges, midnight court sessions, an after-hours skit by prosecutors mocking Chen, reportedly improper communication between the court and the prosecution and restrictions on public attendance, Richardson said.
“Third, there were classic indicators of an unfair trial: Perjured testimony, a prosecution deal and recanted testimony,” he said.
Richardson did not speak to any government officials because he thought “the government was represented by what it has done.”
While President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has reiterated that he would keep his hands off the judicial system, Richardson said his investigation clearly implicated that the trial had been politically influenced and would be deemed “unfair by any standards in the US.”
Richardson, who is from Boston, Massachusetts, and currently lives in the Central American country of Belize, said Chen’s health and his hospital environment, which “was more like a hospital cell and kept Chen largely in isolation,” were also a concern.
Recalling his first meeting with Chen in April 2010, when the former president was an inmate at the Taipei Detention Center, Richardson said Chen “was animated, very upbeat and smiled a lot.”
However, “[Chen] was a different man than [the one] I met two years ago. He was a broken man,” Richardson said, adding that Chen never smiled and made no eye contact during their one-hour meeting at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.
Neither Chen’s environment at the hospital nor the treatment he received in prison were acceptable, Richardson said.
Chen’s hospital room was “not an environment in which somebody who suffers from severe depression can heal,” he said.
In prison, “perhaps the only thing they haven’t done to him is waterboarding,” Richardson added, citing what he learned from interviews with various sources.
“If all the prisoners in Taiwan are being treated the way he’s been treated, there’s a big problem with Taiwan’s prison system,” he said.
Richardson said he had briefed officials at the American Institute in Taiwan about his findings and would submit his report to the FAHR after returning to the US.
Richardson began studying Taiwan’s history and political development six years ago. His previous field of expertise was electoral law and how people in overseas US territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa, obtain US citizenship.