Taiwan

Between 2004–2010 death sentences were not carried out Capital punishment in the Republic of China. Executions resumed in 2010. On 4 March 2011, five people executed. On 3 May 2011 Taiwan removed the death penalty clauses from its Military Law statutes

Cheng Xing-ze: Finally Free from Death Row’s Shadow

“More than 10 people were executed during my time inside,” says Cheng Xing-ze (鄭性澤), the man wrongfully convicted of murdering a police officer and sentenced to death 11 years ago.

Cheng vividly recalls the night they came for his friend, Liu Yen-guo (劉炎國). It was April 29, 2014, the day after Liu’s birthday – we’ll never know whether the then Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) knew about the timing when she signed Liu’s death warrant.

“We had been speaking the evening prior because we had met with our lawyers together in the morning,” Cheng says. “That night, we knew he was to be executed because in the evening after 6 p.m. the cells are closed. If someone comes in after that, the inmates know the reason why.”

Cheng’s exoneration last week is a victory for justice but amounts to little more than a skirmish in the war to end capital punishment in Taiwan. The Taiwan High Prosecutors office declined to appeal a retrial decision by the Taichung High Court to clear Cheng of the murder of police officer Su Hsien-pi (蘇憲丕) during a gunfight at a Taichung karaoke bar in 2002.

The court heard new evidence of torture during Cheng’s interrogation, suggesting his confession had been made under duress. Ballistics reports that indicated that the gangster Luo Wu-hsiung (羅武雄) — who was killed by police after initially starting the shooting by firing a pistol at the ceiling — could not be ruled out as responsible for Su’s death.

The absence of action by prosecutors finally ended Cheng’s 15-year wait for freedom, and with it the fear of enduring another evening straining to hear those portentous footsteps.

“I remember those who were executed,” Cheng says, eyes wistful, now safe in the warm and well-lit office of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (Taiwan Alliance). “There is never any warning. They just come and ask you to change clothes.”

For a time, the warden would prepare offerings the morning after an execution by setting up a table and incense on the sports field. “We would pray towards the execution ground. But that stopped after the warden changed,” Cheng remembers.

The man himself, now approaching 50 years old, is a study in absence. He is easily distracted, though not in the way of diaotouzu – the people you see in the street with heads buried in smartphones. The Yuanli Township native seems just to slip in and out of the present. Moments of joy and liveliness quickly fade into jaded eyes and pockmarked cheeks – marks of the time he has served and will never get back.

The power of the press

His recollection is weak, understandable after more than a decade in prison, and at first he is unforthcoming, perhaps in part due to mistrust of aggressive media that has persistently pressed the case against Cheng on behalf of the victims.

Before his recent release on bail, Cheng wrote a letter to the son of the murdered police officer, feeling he should say something to the boy whose father he stood accused of murdering – now a man in his twenties. “Last year, May 3, I was released from the detention center as the retrial proceedings had opened. I was shocked by how aggressive the media was,” he says. “I knew they would ask me questions about the victims, so I prepared something to give them.”

The ability of the media to influence the severity of sentencing in Taiwan is an issue of ongoing concern. The Judicial Reform Foundation is focused on interrogation procedures, particularly the proclivity for police and prosectors to release information obtained through interrogation to the media prior to trial. “If the media focuses on a serious crime then it is more likely the suspect will be sentenced to death,” says Lin Hsinyi (林欣怡), Executive Director of the Taiwan Alliance.

Since 2009, the alliance has helped rally lawyers, prosecutors and other non-profit groups to support Cheng’s case for the retrial he was eventually granted last year. The effort to clear Cheng’s name has been nothing short of monumental. A book about the case, 十三姨KTV殺人事件, written by Taiwan Alliance board member Chang Chuanfen (張娟芬), helped sway public opinion towards believing in Cheng’s innocence. “I used to have a roommate – a former judge prosecuted for bribery.” Cheng recalls. “I showed the judge the book and after he read it he agreed I was innocent.”

Did that make a difference to how Cheng felt? “It’s the same. I knew that I was innocent. It’s no use him saying it.”

I put it to Cheng that he seems well balanced – no hint of anger in his demeanor. “I was not balanced at all before. People have to find their ways,” he says. “I went through different states of mind … When you are young you are reckless or compulsive. As you get older, you become more level-headed. I look at things without insisting on them going one way or another.” He mentions studying Buddhism as a means of coming to terms with fate.

He tells of his confidence that there was never sufficient evidence to prove him guilty, notably that there were no witness statements suggesting he had been involved in any shooting. “I thought the most I would be charged with was gun possession. My mother was working on collecting bail money, which was NT$300,000 (US$9,940). After the death sentence judgment, I was hopelessly disappointed and surprised.”

Exoneration

His memory of the subsequent appeals is hazy, in part because he assumed the initial verdict suggested that the courts had already presumed his guilt. Only in 2011, when Cheng wrote a letter of complaint about the verdict to the Taiwan Alliance did the Lin and her team commit their limited resources, along with those of the newly established Taiwan Innocence Project, to proving his innocence. From that point on, a team of experienced pro-bono lawyers helped guide Cheng and the alliance through the process of convincing the courts to re-open his case.

Cheng’s stance on the death penalty is dispassionate. He is against it, but not for moral reasons. “There is no standard with which to guide the sentence,” he asserts, adding that his cellmate – the former judge – had told him that even senior Supreme Court justices have no coherent guidelines for how to settle on delivering a death sentence.

“You can ask me if I support the death penalty for all the murders or cases of killing. If there was one standard that brooked no other considerations, maybe, but that would be impossible.”

Cheng is now the fifth man to be exonerated after being initially sentenced to death in Taiwan. The other four are the so-called “Hsichih Trio” of Su Chien-ho (蘇建和) , Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) and Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎), who were found not guilty in 2012 of a robbery-murder after two decades fighting their case. The final victim is Hsu Tzu-chiang (徐自強) – declared innocent upon his ninth retrial in 2016 after nearly 16 years wrongfully held in custody for the kidnap and murder of a businessman. Hsu was recently awarded nearly US$1 million in compensation.

According to Lin, there are 43 prisoners who have currently been sentenced to death in Taiwan. Yet there are potentially dozens of other cases where the death penalty may be applied in the first or second instance, and the trial is still in progress, which are nigh impossible to confirm because the government does not publish official statistics. “There are two more cases we are researching and we believe may be innocent, but we don’t yet have strong evidence,” Lin says.

Despite the continual evidence of miscarriages of justice that could result in the wrongful execution of innocents, public support for the death penalty remains extraordinarily high, with roughly four out of five people in the country against its abolition, according to various surveys.

However, that position is somewhat undermined by the government’s continued failure to move towards abolishing the death penalty. “Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) government has not said anything about going towards the abolition the death penalty even though we signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2009,” Lin says. The ICCPR allows but discourages the death penalty, and since its adoption as Taiwanese law there have been fewer death sentences handed out by courts, but the government is no closer to mustering the executive, legislative or judicial will to put an end to the practice once and for all.

In response to a January 2017 appeal by a group of international human rights experts, Taiwan’s then deputy Minister of Justice Chen Ming-tang (陳明堂) said the government would restart a task force on abolishing the death penalty gradually, but Lin suggests the move is mere deflection.

“I asked [the justice ministry] what their goal is and their timetable but they had not thought about it. They just wanted to show they had replied,” Lin says. “They are not sincere. If they were, they would have steps.”

Lin maintains that if there was greater public awareness of alternatives to execution, such as a sentence of life without parole, then support for the practice would dwindle. “People will say Cheng is innocent, but for others they will say that they are guilty of murder and should be executed. We are trying to show that if you are afraid that people will come out of prison and commit a crime again, then issue a life sentence or life without parole.”

Since 2010, when Taiwan resumed capital punishment after an undeclared moratorium go about five years, there have been 33 executions, the last being Cheng Chieh (鄭捷), the 23-year-old convicted of a mass stabbing on the Taipei metro that left four people dead and two dozen injured. Death row convicts in Taiwan are most often sedated and executed by gunshot to the back of the heart. Serious drug offenses, treason and piracy are among the offenses that can carry the death penalty, but the vast majority are for homicide convictions. There has yet to be an execution carried out in 2017.

The hiatus does not mean there is likely to be a shift in Taiwan’s stance on the issue. That lack of impetus is unlikely to change given public support for the death penalty, and the forthcoming local elections in 2018. “Next year we will talk about alternatives to the death penalty. Politicians will not listen because all they think about is votes,” Lin says, adding that the alliance intends to gather the statistical evidence of public support for life without parole over the death penalty in an effort to cajole the government into action.

Lin picks out South Korea, which has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1997, as an example Taiwan can follow without significant political upheaval. Mongolia is another light in the regional darkness of state-led executions, having signed the ICCPR in 2012 and voted to abolish the death penalty in December 2015. “The Mongolian president talked to MPs, the administration, the constitutional courts – communicated with the three branches of government – in order to convince them,” Lin says. “Our government needs to show similar leadership.”

As it stands, executive leadership on the issue is notable for its absence. Back when the Taiwan Alliance was formed in 2003, the only means Lin’s two-person team had of discovering who might be on death row was trawling newspaper cuttings. By 2005, her team had managed to track down 20 or so inmates, and from that point cooperated with the Legal Aid Foundation and other non-profits to ensure that every person sentenced to death was sent a letter with an offer of legal support.

“We still don’t know the whole picture – no one informs us if there is someone going to trial,” Lin says. “We are helping around 10 cases on first or second trial at the moment. But we know we are missing some. For those who have hired their own lawyers, we have no resources to gather their names.”

For the time being, it is time to cerebrate Cheng’s release. While on bail, he has visited old friends, including those he left behind in the Taichung death row detention center. He intends to continue campaigning against the death penalty and for the freedom of others the Taiwan Alliance believes to be innocent. Now he is finally cleared, he also has the opportunity to leave Taiwan. Last year, Lin visited a temple in Kyoto, Japan, to pray for a positive outcome for Cheng’s verdict. “This morning a lawyer reminded me that we should plan to go back and a lot of other supporters said they wanted to go with us,” Lin says. “Of course we will do that, and if Cheng wants, we can go to the U.S. and Europe. He says I can arrange the trips for him…”

“I’m just the baggage,” Cheng quips, beaming broadly across the table.

 

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Taiwan warns citizens after 11 sentenced to death in Indonesia

Jakarta, Nov. 20  Taiwan’s representative to Indonesia warned Taiwan nationals on Monday not to treat legal penalties in Indonesia lightly, emphasizing that 11 Taiwanese have been sentenced to death for drug related crimes in the country in recent years.

The severity of punishments has also increased as part of a crackdown on drug crimes by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, according to John Chen (陳忠), head of the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Indonesia.

Chen said Widodo has ordered law enforcement officers to “gun down” drug traffickers if necessary, especially those from foreign countries as part of ongoing efforts to end the narcotics emergency facing the nation.

No one should doubt these instructions, Chen advised, urging Taiwanese people “not for one moment to consider smuggling drugs to Indonesia.”

Since last year, four Taiwanese suspects have been shot and killed while resisting arrest in the country. There are also more than 30 Taiwanese detained in prisons across the nation after being arrested for drug trafficking, according to Indonesian official data.

The data also shows that 11 Taiwanese nationals have currently been sentenced to death for drug convictions, including three already on death row.

The other eight received their sentence from either a district or high court. However, given the imposition of such severe punishments against drug criminals over the past few years, it is widely believed there is little to no chance of the supreme court commuting the sentences of individuals convicted of drug related crimes.

Statistics from Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency in a 2015 report indicated that approximately 33 people die of drug overdoses every day in the country, and that the narcotics problems resulted in economic losses to the country of US$4.8 billion in 2014.

In 2016, Indonesia seized 250 metric tons of drugs coming into the country, with China the largest source, according to the agency.

Taiwan executes five death-row inmates

April 29, 2014

TAIPEI: Taiwanese authorities said they executed five death-row inmates Tuesday, nearly a year after six prisoners were put to death.

The justice ministry said the five were put to death in various parts of the island. They were the first executions ordered by Luo Ying-shay since she became justice minister last September.

The inmates were anaesthetised and then shot, it said. There are now 47 prisoners on death row, according to the ministry.

“The five were cold-blooded and cruel, devoid of conscience…they have left the family of the victims pains that could hardly be allayed,” deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang told reporters.

The five, separately convicted on charges of murder, robbery and forced sex, had caused 11 deaths and left four injured, he said.

The execution ruffled the feathers of the Taiwan Alliance to End Death Penalty, the group which has been active in pushing for the abolishment of death penalty.

It alleged that the execution was aimed to help the embattled Ma Ying-jeou administration divert the public’s attention away from the recent controversies of the service trade agreement with China and a new nuclear power plant that have prompted tens of thousands of people to take to Taipei’s streets.

Taiwan resumed executions in 2010 after a five-year hiatus, putting four people to death. There were five executions in 2011, six in 2012 and another six in 2013.

But the government has defended the long-standing policy, citing polls that show that more than two-thirds of Taiwanese support capital punishment, believing it is a strong deterrent to violent crime.

Taiwan reserves the death penalty for serious crimes including aggravated murder and kidnapping, but the political elite is divided about whether to retain it.

The abolitionist debate was revived after judicial and military authorities came under fire over the execution of a soldier wrongly convicted in a child murder case.

Chiang Kuo-ching, a 21-year-old executed by shooting in 1997, was posthumously acquitted in a military court in 2011 of the rape and murder of a five-year-old girl.

He had insisted on his innocence and said he was coerced by a group of air force intelligence officers into confessing. (AFP)

Taiwan: Execution of death row inmates deliberated: Justice Minister

february 25, 2014

Under pressure from a legislator to carry out executions of death row inmates, Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay said Tuesday that her ministry will proceed cautiously in evaluating issues related to capital punishment.

Kuomintang lawmaker Wu Yu-sheng questioned Luo at a legislative hearing on Tuesday on why a government that stresses governing based on the rule of law has yet to execute 45 death row inmates who have exhausted all possible judicial remedies.

Wu said he was religious and felt bad about asking that death row inmates be executed, but he noted that capital punishment is legal in Taiwan and that there were currently 52 inmates on death row, some of whom were sentenced to death as long as 10 years ago.

Challenged by Wu on whether the ministry would conduct the executions, Luo said it would, but she stressed that it would carry out its duties prudently.

Luo said that since assuming her post, she has reviewed the cases of these death row prisoners to see whether they have applied for extraordinary appeals, constitutional interpretations or retrials for their cases.

Wu countered, however, that only seven death row inmates are seeking legal remedies, while the other 45 are on the list for immediate execution, and he demanded that Luo promise to activate procedures for the execution of these convicts.

Luo answered, “OK. We will follow our precedures.”

Premier Jiang Yi-huah said, meanwhile, that he has discussed issues related to executions with Luo and reached a consensus that the death penalty would be carried out in accordance with the law if death row inmates had exhausted all possible remedies.

It will be up to the ministry, however, to decide when to carry out the executions, Jiang said.

(source: Focus Taiwan)

Death penalty dilemma dividing Taiwan

June 4, 2012 : http://www.bbc.co.uk

In 1997 a Taiwanese soldier was executed for murder, despite there being no evidence against him.

The authorities last year admitted he was innocent and compensated his family, but legal experts warn a similar tragedy could happen again under the current judicial system.

Chiang Kuo-ching was convicted of raping and killing a five-year-old girl. He was one of two soldiers who worked in the same building as the girl’s mother, and had failed a lie detector test because he was scared.

He insisted he was innocent, but was executed at the age of 21.

After a long campaign by his parents, investigators reopened the case in 2010 and indicted a man with a history of sexual offences last year.

The government admitted Mr Chiang was tortured into confessing and late last year apologised to his family.

Despite this alarming case, Taiwan’s judges continue to sentence defendants to death with no material evidence, such as fingerprints or DNA, experts say.

Instead, they rely mainly on confessions or co-defendants’ statements, and routinely accept as evidence police interrogations that are not recorded or videotaped, even though the law requires recordings to prevent police torture, lawyers and others say.

Moratorium over

“The problem is even though on paper judges are supposed to follow the principle of innocent until proven guilty, in practice many don’t,” said Lin Feng-cheng, head of Taiwan’s Judicial Reform Foundation.

“They and the society want to quickly solve a case and bring justice to the victims’ families,” he said.

He and others say the young democracy’s judicial system is still immature and lacks sufficient safeguards, including trials by jury.

With a public that generally does not question court sentences, there are worries that more wrongful executions could happen, especially since Taiwan has ended a four-year moratorium.

From 2006 to 2009, no executions were carried out, as the government tried to bring Taiwan closer to the international trend of abolishing the death penalty.

But the moratorium ended in 2010 after former Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng inadvertently drew attention to it, by publicly stating that she would not sign off on any executions.

Facing public pressure, President Ma Ying-jeou replaced Ms Wang with Tseng Yung-fu, who promptly ordered four people be executed, and another five last year.

Taiwan’s judges – most of whom favour the death penalty – meanwhile sentenced 15 people to death at the Supreme Court level last year, the highest number in the past decade.

Execution dilemma

Once praised as a potential leader in Asia on the issue, Taiwan now finds itself criticised by the European Union, Amnesty International and other anti-death penalty groups.

Taiwan’s government says it wants to eventually abolish the death penalty, but not until it can convince the public. Surveys show that more than 70% of the population favours it.

“At present, the majority of the people in Taiwan are still opposed to the abolition of the death penalty and therefore we think it is inappropriate for the government to do away with the death penalty right now,” said Chen Wen-chi, an adviser and spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice.

But opponents argue that many abolitionist countries went against public opinion.

More importantly, they say that given Taiwan’s still unsophisticated police, prosecution and judicial practices, executions should be halted to avoid punishing the innocent.

Some practices from Taiwan’s martial law period, including torturing suspects, still linger, said Chang Chuan-fen, an executive committee member of the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

Police officers and prosecutors had told her they needed to be rough with suspects so they confessed. And Taiwan’s ability to collect scientific evidence, such as DNA, or to reconstruct crime scenes, is still limited, she said.

“So to a large extent the prosecutors and police officers rely on the old habits to give a lot of pressure [to suspects] and… they have some fancy ways to not leave a trace,” Ms Chang said.

Few lawyers here have the experience to handle death penalty cases well, so defendants do not get a proper defence, according to the alliance.

Last month, President Ma said the government was trying to reduce the use of the death penalty. Prosecutors have been urged to avoid seeking the death sentence except for the most extreme crimes.

Over the years, Taiwan has also reduced the offences punishable by death, and given judges greater discretion to punish defendants with life imprisonment instead.

But legal experts say until the death penalty is abolished, more safeguards must be put in place to prevent miscarriages of justice.

There are 57 inmates currently on death row. At least one of them, and four others sentenced to death but still undergoing appeals, were convicted with no material evidence, Lin Feng-cheng said.

“The mistakes made in Chiang Kuo-ching’s case are typical of mistakes still made in Taiwan,” said Mr Lin. “We believe if we continue the death penalty, the risks are very high.”

Case of Chiou Ho-shun

Chiou Ho-shun speaking to a journalist in the Taipei Detention Centre, May 2009 (Photo by: Wan-ru Chan, Radio Taiwan International)

Chiou Ho-shun was first sentenced to death for the murder of a woman and the kidnapping and murder of a boy in 1989. He was one of 12 defendants the police held for four months, during which time they were subjected to torture and confessed to the murders. They later retracted their confessions. In 1994, two prosecutors and 10 police officers were punished for using torture to obtain confessions in one of the cases.

Chiou, considered the mastermind, has been detained for 23 years while his case was retried 11 times. The High Court would sentence him to death, but the Supreme Court would reject the sentence because of insufficient evidence or problems in the case.

Until recently there was no limit on how long defendants can be imprisoned or how many times they can be retried. But a new law came into effect in May, limiting the time a defendant can be held without a final verdict to eight years, meaning Chiou would have to be released this year.

Critics say that the looming law was the reason why the Supreme Court quickly made a final ruling on Chiou in 2011, sentencing him to death. And they believe it is the reason why so many more defendants were sentenced to death last year – judges simply did not want to have to release them, even though the courts had retried them for so many years without a final conviction.

Unwilling to apply for a presidential pardon as he insists he is innocent, Chiou could be executed at any time.

Amnesty International and a former UN special rapporteur on torture have raised serious concerns about this case, pointing to the torture, the long detention, and violation of the right to a fair trial.