The Transitional Justice Commission last week overturned the guilty verdict of a former mechanic court-martialed 47 years ago, saying that the original ruling contravened the principles of criminal law.
Chen Wen-chiung (陳文炯) was court-martialed in 1974 for insulting a commanding officer, which at that time contravened Article 75 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法), and was sentenced to less than three years in prison. The act has since been amended, moving such an offense to a different article.
During the review, Chen told the commission that he was employed as a mechanic at the Joint Logistics Command’s Factory 44, and although considered a subordinate of the factory commander, he was not serving in the military.
Chen said that he was taken to the Joint Logistics Command by the military police and was alone during the trial, adding that he was detained for four months before they read him his verdict.
Trial documents showed that Chen was accused of having a tendency of slacking off and often taking leave, and had used an expletive when demanding an answer from the factory commander, surnamed Yen (晏), on June 8, 1974.
Openly insulting a commander undermines the chain of command and should be appropriately punished to prevent similar occurrences, the documents said.
The commission said that the court martial used Article 75 of the act simply because it was procedurally applicable, while ignoring that Chen was not a member of the military, which contravened the principles of criminal law.
Court martialing should not apply to anyone outside of serving military personnel, as clearly stated in Article 9 of the Constitution, the commission said.
While articles 8 and 9 of the Martial Law Act (戒嚴法) provided an exception, it only allowed people outside the military to be tried under military law for certain offenses, but did not extend the military court’s jurisdiction over substantive law, the commission said.
The court’s verdict was delivered without prior investigation to substantiate the charges, and based on the conditions described in the court martial, the expletive Chen used should not be considered an act of defamation, but rather an emotional outburst, the commission said.
The incident is another example of an authoritarian government seeking to secure its rule, oppressing any dissent and preventing people from developing individuality, the commission said.
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