Scholars Issue Yet Another Letter on the Erosion of Justice in Taiwan

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Friday January 30, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Previous posts of November 15, and November 29, 2008 had presented two open letters to Taiwan's Minister of Justice on the erosion of justice in Taiwan during the short presidency of Ma Ying-jeou. Minister Wang failed to provide any kind of satisfactory answer to both letters and as a result the scholars and writers issued a third letter. This time the letter was addressed to President Ma Ying-jeou before the Lunar New Year holiday. The text is provided below; an answer has since been given by the Government Information Office. It too was inadequate but it will still be provided at a later date. Unable to live up to its pre-election hype and face the bankrupt inadequacy of its programs, the Ma government can only resort to denial.

Eroding justice: Open letter No. 3

Wednesday, Jan 17, 2009


We the undersigned, scholars and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, consider ourselves long-time supporters of a democratic Taiwan. We write to express our concern regarding the erosion of the judicial system in Taiwan during the past few months.

On two previous occasions we have publicly expressed our concerns to Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng, but the minister's responses are troubling in their persistent failure to acknowledge that there even is a problem, and in their attitude of denial that the judicial process is flawed and partial. We trust that our raising our concerns with you as president will be treated as advice from international supporters of Taiwan's democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation.

First we may mention the fact that your administration has not yet acted upon recommendations, made both by Freedom House and Amnesty International, to conduct an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, and in particular the police behavior and infringements on basic freedoms. The establishment of a scrupulously neutral commission is essential if there is to be a fair and objective conclusion on the disturbances that occurred during the Chen Yunlin visit.

Second, we are concerned about the legal proceedings in the case of former president Chen Shui-bian. The switch of the case from a three-panel court that released him on his own cognizance on Dec. 13 to a court that subsequently re-incarcerated him on Dec. 25, both Christmas Day and Constitution Day, seems to have resulted from political pressure from KMT members of the Legislative Yuan. In his commentary in the South China Morning Post of Jan. 8, 2009, Professor Jerome Cohen presented details of such political interference in the judicial system, while The Associated Press on Jan. 4 also gave incisive insights in the process that took place.

Third, we are deeply concerned by the widespread pattern of leaks to the media regarding ongoing cases' leaks which because of their content and nature can only have come from the prosecutors' offices. As was reported by The Associated Press on Jan. 4, 2009, prominent observers in Taiwan such as Professor Wang Yeh-lih of National Taiwan University charge that these leaks come from prosecutors who consistently violated the principle of guarding the details of investigations during the Chen case.

This pattern of behavior displays a distinct bias in the judicial system and a disregard for fair and impartial processes.

The lack of attention to professional judicial standards reached a new low with the skit by several prosecutors who satirized those whom they are prosecuting. We are disturbed by Minister Wang's defending this as "just for fun".

Press agencies quote the minister as saying: "It was just a play to help everybody relax. There's no reason to take it too seriously."

In our view the actions by the prosecutors and the comment by Minister Wang display a lack of judicial professionalism and political neutrality.

We reiterate that any cases of alleged corruption must be investigated, and that if the defendants are found guilty in a scrupulously impartial process, they should receive just punishment after trial. We thus emphasize that the political neutrality of the judicial system is a fundamental element in a democracy. The examples mentioned above indicate that the investigative process has been conducted and sensationalized to the extent that both the right of the accused to a fair trial, and the presumption of innocence have been seriously jeopardized. Justice through the rule of law is essential to Taiwan's efforts to consolidate democracy and protect fundamental human rights.

In addition to the harm done to the personas of those accused, the international image of Taiwan has suffered. A president of a country bears political responsibility for the conduct of his subordinates' actions, and we therefore urge immediate and decisive action to correct the severe flaws in the process that are staining the national honor, perhaps irreparably.

Taiwan's judicial system must be not only above suspicion but even above the appearance of suspicion of partiality and political bias. We appeal to you, Mr. President, to restore the credibility of the judicial system in Taiwan and ensure that your government and its judiciary and parliamentary institutions safeguard the full democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, for which the Taiwanese people have worked so hard during the past two decades.

Respectfully yours,

Nat Bellocchi Former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan

Coen Blaauw Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Washington DC

Stephane Corcuff Associate Professor Polit. Science, China & Taiwan Studies, University of Lyon, France

Gordon G. Chang Author, The Coming Collapse of China

David Curtis Wright Associate Professor of History, University of Calgary

June Teufel Dreyer Professor of Political Science, University of Miami, Florida

Edward Friedman Professor of Political Science and East Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Terri Giles Executive Director, Formosa Foundation, Los Angeles

Mark Harrison Senior Lecturer, Head of the Chinese School of Asian Languages and Studies, University of Tasmania, Australia

Bruce Jacobs Professor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Richard C. Kagan Professor Emeritus of History, Hamline University, St Paul Minnesota. Author, Taiwan's Statesman, Lee Teng-hui and Democracy in Asia and other works on Taiwan

Jerome F. Keating Associate Professor, National Taipei University (Ret.). Author, Island in the Stream, a Quick Case Study of Taiwan's Complex History and other works on Taiwan's history

Hon. David Kilgour Former Member Parliament and Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, Canada Daniel Lynch Associate Professor, School of International Relations, University of Southern California

Victor H. Mair Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Pennsylvania

Donald Rodgers Associate Professor of Political Science, Austin College, Texas

Terence Russell Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Manitoba, Canada

Christian Schafferer Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Overseas Chinese Institute of Technology, Chair Austrian Association of East Asian Studies, Editor Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia

Michael Stainton York Center for Asia Research, Toronto, Canada

Peter Tague Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Washington DC

John J. Tkacik Jr Former Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, Washington DC

Arthur Waldron Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania

Vincent Wei-cheng Wang Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond, Virginia

Gerrit van der Wees Editor Taiwan Communiqu? Washington DC

Michael Yahuda Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics, Visiting Scholar George Washington University

Stephen Yates President of DC Asia Advisory and former deputy assistant to Vice President Cheney on National Security Affairs