A Visit with Former President Chen Shui-bian Raises Questions on Taiwan's Double Standard of Justice

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

Former President Chen Shui-bian has been in jail for over 500 days on corruption charges while others found guilty of the same and other crimes were never jailed and walk free. Those walking free are from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People's First Party (PFP); Chen is from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Chen has been denied the human right of proper defense and proper lawyer client privileges. His judge was replaced when he did not give the desired verdict wanted by Chen's opponents who work for Taiwan's current president Ma Ying-jeou. Many of those associated with the President Chen's case have been jailed in an attempt to force them to fabricate, create and/or provide incriminating evidence against Chen. No one involved with the numerous other corruption cases of the KMT and PFP have been treated this way. For the moment, however, let's leave aside the double standard of justice in Taiwan. There is time enough for that later. Today I just want to describe the conditions one experiences if he/she visits former President Chen.

Chen is held at the Detention Center near Tucheng. To visit Chen, one first schedules the visit with Chen's office staff. On the appointed day, one signs in with identification at the Detention Center outside office and then walks around to the Center. You show your appointment/registration slip, and again provide identification; you are checked for weapons and anything else. You get an admission badge and leave your keys, wallet, cell phone, brief case and anything else in a locker by admissions; a guard escorts you through the next locked gate and to the visiting room.

The visiting room resembles those you often see in the movies; it is a small room with phones to talk to the person visited (here Chen) who sits on the other side of a double pane, bullet-proof glass. This glass also has thick bars across and reinforcing it. Once you enter, the door automatically locks shut behind you.

Chen comes in accompanied by a guard who stands behind him all the time and listens in to everything being said and takes notes. Chen picks up his phone; you pick up yours and your allotted 30 minutes for the visit begin. All through of course, you are watched through another glass window with a two-way mirror that allows someone on the other side to observe you.

In addition to the guard listening and jotting notes behind Chen, Chen points out that another guard is tape-recording everything we say--just in case the first guard misses something in his notes. Looking over to the left, we can see that guard and tape recorder through a window on Chen's side. When you talk, you therefore must keep in mind that everything you say is being recorded. The authorities could be fishing for any kind of evidence to use against Chen and anyone associated with him. It reminds one that the days of the White Terror may not be past after all. Caution is the word.

We discuss various topics; the thirty minutes go quickly and we press our palms against the glass to bid goodbye to Chen. We turn to go and open the door, but find it is still locked. After a couple of minutes, a guard opens it and escorts us back through the locked gate to where we had left our belongings.

Most of the experience is what you would expect in visiting anyone in the detention center. Security must naturally be maintained; visitation times should be limited; weapons or other materials should not be allowed to be brought in etc. However, one aspect stands out; why are there orders that every conversation that Chen holds be recorded? Is this standard procedure?

Are the conversations of every inmate with every visitor recorded? Or are the conversations of Chen, the only conversations that are recorded? Those are a number of questions and they bring back the recollection that in the early stages of his trial, the prosecutors would not allow Chen to properly and privately plan any defense. For months even after the court ruled this was illegal and a violation of human rights, the prosecutors monitored Chen's conversations with his lawyers until the court order officially passed through all the stages of the system.

Is there a double standard of justice? Many of the KMT and PFP convicted of similar and other crimes were never submitted to this treatment, and they walk free. What do you think? We will have to come back to that later.