Penalties for national security breaches must be increased to deter Chinese espionage, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers said on Thursday after prosecutors reported that most defendants convicted of betraying secrets received a light sentence.
According to the office, prosecutors secured 222 convictions for charges related to national security between January 2015 and September last year, but only 19 of the convictions resulted in a prison sentence of six months or more.
DPP Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) said that the Legislative Yuan had made several amendments to national security laws since 2015 to address concerns regarding the light penalties, or none at all, contained in the laws against Beijing-directed espionage.
Developing an espionage organization on behalf of “the mainland area” was a crime punishable by a sentence of no more than five years in prison or a NT$1 million (US$35,704) fine under the National Security Act (國家安全法) before the new measures, Chao said.
Amendments made to the act in June last year increased the penalty to at least seven years in prison or a NT$50 million to NT$100 million fine, he said.
“While judges have yet to invoke the new laws, their deterrence value will become more discernible,” he said.
The revisions provide law enforcement officials with legislative instruments to investigate and lay charges of espionage, and serve to remind judges and prosecutors that spying for Beijing is a serious offense, he said.
DPP Legislator Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應) said that he remains convinced that the legislature should improve national security laws, although the public needs to understand that prosecutorial discretion and judicial independence are part of the sentencing process.
The National Security Act and Trade Secrets Act (營業秘密法) need to be amended to increase the severity of penalties, DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said.
“However, changes to the law would not make a difference if judges show leniency,” she said.
Retired military officers Hsu Nai-chuan (許乃權) and Yang Jung-hua (楊榮華) had received light sentences for spying, as the judges cited their lack of a criminal history, record of good character and having elderly parents, she said.
“Generals are supposed to have good character and no criminal record,” she said, describing the reasoning of the court as “patently absurd.”
Judges appear unable to understand that communist spies could cause irreparable damage to national security and should be sentenced as a grave threat to the country, she said.
“Abstract endangerment, not clear and present danger, should be the legal standard applied to the crime of developing an espionage organization,” attorney and former prosecutor Weng Wei-lun (翁偉倫) said.
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