Over the past few weeks, people have been shocked to see Taiwan’s judicial institutions playing fast and free with the law and the Constitution. The legal bureaucrats’ shoddy and shameful actions have struck at the very foundation of democracy and the rule of law, and the creaks and groans emanating from the rotten Judicial Yuan seem to forebode the arrival of a new era of martial law.
How else is one to interpret the sight of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) wearing handcuffs on one occasion, but free of them on another? How else can one explain the arrest and subsequent release of Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬)?
Chen has been refusing solid food in protest against his detention. He was not force-fed at the detention center, and he was not handcuffed or fettered when he was taken to hospital under guard. Why, then, did the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) find it necessary to have him put in handcuffs when he was first taken into custody?
Aside from whether such treatment is a breach of protocol with regard to a former head of state, that Chen was not cuffed when he was taken to hospital shows that there was no need to cuff him in the first place. One can only conclude that the SIP had Chen cuffed just to humiliate him.
The SIP even tried to conceal its own evil intent by using the media to spread rumors that Chen actually asked to be put in handcuffs to manipulate public opinion in his favor. SIP members lined up to swear that they would resign if they could not push Chen’s case through by the end of the year. Their determination to get Chen by whatever means was clearly manifested in the cuffing incident.
Su’s case is another sign of the way things are going. She was arrested without a summons and questioned for nine hours before being taken to court, where prosecutors applied for her to be held in custody. The court granted Su bail of NT$6 million (US$180,000), but she refused bail, was detained and went on hunger strike in protest. After Su had gone 250 hours without food, the Yunlin District Prosecutors’ Office hurriedly returned to court to indict her, upon which she was granted unsecured bail.
The court’s decisions to set Su’s bail at a hefty sum at the first hearing and grant unsecured bail at the next were not based on any proper criteria.
What conclusion is to be drawn, other than that Su’s detention and subsequent release were both arranged with political motives? Regrettably, the dignity and solemnity of the law have been thrown into the slammer along with the accused.
Chief Prosecutor Lin Wen-liang (林文亮), who indicted Su, said the evidence against her was clear and solid. If that is the case, why did the prosecution not appeal the court’s decision to release her on unsecured bail?
The prosecutors even declared, in tones reminiscent of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), that they would make the accused crawl. They should bear in mind that their battleground is the law court, not the media. Forgetting entirely the limits of their role in a democratic society, Lin and his colleagues are acting like medieval inquisitors, claiming that they seek to improve the investment climate in Yunlin.
Since when has the government been run by prosecutors? Their attitude only goes to show that the courts are under the control of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his pro-unification allies.
From Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and Su to Chen Shui-bian, a climate of political character assassination is brewing. Is every prosecutor in Taiwan going to sink into this mire?
Prosecutor Eric Chen (陳瑞仁) of the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office, for one, has seen more than he can take. Speaking at a symposium on prosecution reform, Chen said that the prosecutorial system should avoid clustering the accused into particular groups.
Judge Lu Tai-lang (呂太郎), however, said: “All the people arrested by the prosecutors share the same party affiliation.”
No wonder the SIP has become known as the “Chen Shui-bian Investigation Panel.” Frighteningly and lamentably, the prosecutors handling these cases have not just surrendered to Ma and his clique, but have become his willing pawns.
In May this year, speaking on the 10th anniversary of the Prosecutors’ Reform Association, prosecutor Yang Ta-chih (楊大智) said: “In the decade that has passed since the founding of the Prosecutors’ Reform Association, we started with the KMT in power, followed by eight years of Democratic Progressive Party government, and now we have the KMT in power again. Ten years ago political interference in the judicial process was blatant. Now the big problem is the way some prosecutors put themselves at the beck and call of politicians.”
Even before Ma and his crew took office, prosecutors could hardly wait for the return of the good old days. Speaking from the belly of the beast, Yang exposed in a few words the reality of the KMT’s political comeback.
Speaking at a press conference following Chen Shui-bian’s detention, American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young said that the judicial process in Chen’s case must be “transparent, fair and impartial” — repeating the phrase no less than three times, and stressing that this was “very important.”
Barely concealing his criticism of the way the case is being handled, Young said with a hint of sarcasm: “I know that Taiwan’s legal system, just as America’s, views everyone as innocent until proven guilty” and cautioned that “it is important to build confidence in the judicial system and the criminal justice system.”
Ma and his government have already set Taiwan on the path toward the restoration of martial law, and only the public can stop them.
Former British prime minister Lord Salisbury said that if the people have the courage to resist tyranny, there is hope yet for their struggle. His words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them, and just as inspirational.
Chin Heng-wei is editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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