If former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) appeals, US legal expert Jerome Cohen said yesterday, he would prefer to see Chen released, as it would be difficult for Chen to build a case while in detention.
“Every society has to protect human rights. This is a long process and a learning process for Taiwan. It is a very sad day, it is also a very important day,” he told reporters after visiting Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) at the legislature yesterday morning.
Cohen, who was a mentor to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) when he studied at Harvard Law School, said the Chen case took a long time and that people could learn a lot from it.
Saying that the day was important for Taiwan’s judicial system, Cohen said he was anxious to know the result of the case and that he hoped the public would pay attention to issues relating to judiciary procedure and human rights.
All around the world there exist countries in which tense relations between two parties helped battle corruption in politics while protecting human rights, he said.
There are many problems within the judiciary and the power of custody needs to be used carefully because it is an instrument that can have huge effects, he said, adding that if Chen appeals he should be released to prepare his case.
Chen has been confined at the Taipei Detention House in Tucheng (土城), Taipei County, since late December, after prosecutors convinced judges not to release him following his indictment.
Asked whether it was appropriate for the judge to have been changed half-way through Chen’s trial, Cohen said it would have been reasonable if Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) had taken up and presided over the Taipei District Court’s collegiate panel right from the start.
Because the judges were changed after the case had started, it was natural that there was public doubt over the matter, he said.
In December, judges ordered that Chou Chan-chun (周占春), who originally presided over Chen’s case, be replaced by Tsai, who would preside over four cases filed against Chen. The switch was controversial and skeptics questioned the legality of the move and whether it might have been politically motivated.
Later yesterday, Cohen attended a seminar organized by National Taiwan University’s (NTU) law school and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation. The seminar discussed what had been achieved in terms of legal affairs in Asian countries over the past 10 years. Chen’s case was a popular topic at the seminar.
“Are we witnessing a reverse justice progress in this case? That is something important that we should observe,” Cohen told the audience. “You need to punish corruption, but you also have to protect human rights.”
New York University law professor Frank Upham, another participant at the seminar, said that Chen’s case “is a big Broadway production, instead of an off-Broadway show.”
NTU associate law professor Wang Jaw-perng (王兆鵬) said that the case showed the judiciary’s failure to remain neutral.
“I would say that this case is a test for Taiwan’s judiciary. And the most important question for this case is: ‘Will Taiwanese people accept the verdict?’” Wang said. “If the judiciary fails, people will not believe in the verdict and that was what happened in the case.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP
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