Taiwan's Minister of Justice Responds to the Scholars' Joint Statement

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Thursday November 27, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

On November 6th some twenty US, Canadian, European, and Australian scholars wrote a Joint Statement to Taiwan's Ministry of Justice and other government agencies expressing deep concern over the recent series of detentions in Taiwan (that statement can be seen below on November 15). The statement was also published in the "Taipei Times" on November 6. The Honorable Wang Ching-feng, Taiwan's Minister of Justice recently responded to that statement stating that it was inaccurate on several points. Minister Wang's letter was printed in the "Taipei Times" on November 25. On November 26 the Taipei Times editorial addressed the Minister's letter and in particular where it claimed that all Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) figures arrested were charged according to law within 24 hours. The editorial stated "This unfortunately, is also simply untrue raising concerns that Wang did not mean what she wrote or lacks a basic grasp of the legal system." The full editorial can be found in the Taipei Times for November 26.

This writer, as one who signed the original Joint Statement, was quite surprised to see the Minister make the following claim. "This (the accusations) creates the misimpression that Taiwan's judicial system is susceptible to political manipulation which quite simply is untrue." This may have been an error in translation, but while one hopes that Taiwan's judiciary is fair and impartial, such a statement suggests that Taiwan is already a perfect world. To judge for themselves, readers can go through the Minister's letter printed below. In the meantime, the original twenty scholars will be providing their joint response in the coming days. Minister Wang's letter is as follows.

Tuesday, Nov 25, 2008, Page 8

--Open letter is inaccurate

The signatories who wrote the open letter that appeared in the Taipei Times leveled several criticisms against Taiwan's prosecutorial and judicial procedures ("Open letter on erosion of justice in Taiwan," Nov. 6, page 8). Regrettably, various statements in the letter appear to be indicative of a lack of understanding or perhaps a misunderstanding of due process of law in Taiwan. The Ministry of Justice would like to clarify the relevant facts.

The open letter alleges that "the procedures followed by the prosecutors' offices are severely flawed." The majority of the detained present and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government officials, the letter read, were "being held incommunicado without being charged," which "is a severe contravention of the writ of habeas corpus and a basic violation of due process, justice and the rule of law." We believe the facts clearly show that this allegation is groundless.

As required by law, when the present and former DPP government officials were interrogated by the prosecutors, they were all informed of the charges that had been brought against them. They were also informed of their rights to retain counsel and to remain silent. After they were detained, they had the right and ability to communicate with their attorneys to seek legal assistance. None of them was held incommunicado without charges.

After they were arrested, they were immediately, within 24 hours at most; brought before judge(s) to determine whether they should be detained before trial for the crimes they were charged with. This is a standard procedure that was strictly followed by all of the prosecutors involved.

Therefore, in the cases in question, the prosecutors did not contravene the writ of habeas corpus or violate due process, justice, or the rule of law. Even the defense attorneys of the DPP officials did not accuse the prosecutors of doing what the open letter claims they did. These facts are indisputable and serve as proof of the prosecutors' compliance with due process and the law as well as respect for the writ of habeas corpus.

The open letter further states that "the prosecutors" offices apparently leak detrimental information to the press with the intention of conducting a "trial by press." The confidentiality of investigations, however, is explicitly required by our Code of Criminal Procedure. Information relating to ongoing investigations can be disclosed only by the spokespersons of prosecutor's offices. Any prosecutor who discloses information without authorization will be internally disciplined as well as be subject to criminal prosecution.

The media may receive information from a number of different sources, such as the defense counsels, defendants and witnesses. With respect to the criticism of the Special Task Force attached to the Supreme Prosecutor Office, we have asked the Supreme Prosecutor Office and the Ethics Office of this Ministry to investigate. So far, however, there is no evidence that any prosecutors or other law enforcement officials leaked information to the media.

The most serious allegation made in the open letter was that alleged leaks to the press give "the distinct impression that the Kuomintang [KMT] authorities are using the judicial system to get even with members of the former DPP government. This creates the misimpression that Taiwan's judicial system is susceptible to political manipulation, which quite simply is untrue.

The investigations into the cases referred to in the open letter began when the DPP was the ruling party. In addition, the Special Investigation Task Force was created under former president Chen Shui-bian's administration, and the prosecutor-general of the Supreme Prosecutor Office was nominated by Chen himself.

These facts are testament to the impartiality of Taiwan's prosecutorial and judicial system, and should lay to rest any claim of partisanship on the part of the Special Investigation Task Force.

During a press conference last Tuesday, in answer to questions about recent developments in Taiwan, US Department of State Spokesman Sean McCormack said: "This is a matter for Taiwan's legal system to resolve. We are confident in Taiwan's democracy and its legal system, and we have every expectation that the process will be "transparent, fair and impartial."

We in the Ministry of Justice surely share this view and want to reassure those who are concerned about Taiwan, including those who wrote and signed the open letter, that there will be absolutely no erosion of justice in Taiwan, no matter who the accused is.


Minister of Justice

Republic of China