Local judicial rights under attack

By Cao Changqing

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership has finally taken action, demanding that former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) judicial rights be respected.
In New York and Los Angeles, a dozen Taiwanese groups recently held concurrent press conferences, initiating a yellow-ribbon campaign for Chen.

This is a US tradition through which people remember and campaign for the release of prisoners of war.

By wearing yellow ribbons, these Taiwanese Americans were showing their concern for the former president’s judicial rights.

While many overseas Taiwanese were unable to make their minds up when allegations of Chen’s corruption first surfaced, they are now massively in support of protecting his judicial rights.

Judging from reactions at speeches I have given in Taiwanese communities in several US cities recently, most audience members are angry at President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government over Chen’s long detention.

Their strong reaction has at least three main causes.

First, a just trial can only take place in a fair judicial environment.

But the media has been reporting the details of Chen’s case right from the start, prompting the public to find him guilty before the trial is over.

Later, the judge presiding over his case was suddenly replaced, suspects were detained to extract confessions and the trial record was manipulated. In this highly unfair judicial environment, a just trial is impossible.

Despite the prosecutors’ many charges, a just trial is possible only in a fair judicial environment, no matter how serious the charges against Chen.

The government is guilty of illegal detention, an improper change of judge and the falsification of trial records.

Under these circumstances, it is not possible to truly investigate whether Chen is guilty of corruption.

The sequence should be to first guarantee his judicial rights and then proceed with the trial on the premise of a just judicial environment protected by the judicial system.

Second, the negative consequences of the government’s power abuse are much more serious than individual corruption.

I have repeatedly emphasized this concept in my newspaper articles.

In all societies that have suffered under dictatorship, people are indifferent to their personal rights because they are accustomed to the government’s abuse of power and they have become able to endure it.

At the moment, the government’s abuse of judicial rights is obvious and rampant.

Even the pro-blue Chinese-language China Times has published an editorial saying that Chen’s long detention may damage democracy and the rule of law.

If the government can trample on the former president’s judicial rights today, it can do the same thing to anyone tomorrow.

Some say that the judiciary is not only unfair to Chen alone and that we should call for fair prosecution of all cases. Certainly, we must safeguard every individual’s human rights, but it goes without saying that celebrity cases usually attract more attention and have a greater influence.

This is why the media invited medical experts to discuss cardiac disease after Michael Jackson’s death, although countless people die of heart disease every day.

Third, the government is becoming more arrogant. This is frightening when we look to Taiwan’s future. Most pan-green camp supporters feel that Chen’s long detention is political retaliation by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that is meant to destroy the green camp’s morale and crack down on Taiwanese independence.

In addition, Ma has filed a lawsuit against prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁) accusing him of forgery during his investigation of Ma’s handling of his special allowance fund.

Meanwhile, first lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青) has filed a lawsuit against political commentator Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒) and some others for allegedly defaming her.

The blatant arrogance of the incumbent president and his wife in suing private citizens is making a growing number Taiwanese feel ill at ease, especially after a group of Taiwan experts in the West repeatedly petitioned the government to demand that Chen be given his judicial rights, and after the government ignored criticism by Ma’s law professor and mentor Jerome Cohen of the current situation in several newspaper articles.

How can we not worry about the consequences when such a government is in total control of Taiwan?

Even at a time when Ma’s government is treating the cases of alleged corruption against Chen as political, some in the pan-green camp still treat them as a judicial issue.

Perhaps some of them are politically unwise because of their own blind spots, and perhaps some have other motivations.

The pan-green camp’s understanding of the CCP, the KMT and Chen’s corruption trial is directly related to the nation’s future.

It is difficult to imagine the negative consequences of any mistaken decisions.

Cao Changqing is a freelance journalist based in the US.

Published on Taipei Times, Jul 03, 2009


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