Taiwan abolitionists remind their government of its promise
On March 1, 2011, the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice announced that there “may be an opportunity this month” to carry out executions of condemned prisoners who do not “currently have applications for appeal, retrial or judicial review.”
Just a few days later, which was the earliest possible date, five Taiwanese prisoners were executed without any advance notification to them, their families or any human rights groups that might have come to their defence.
These events elicited a strong response from World Coalition member the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP). Immediately following the Minister of Justice’s announcement on March 1st, TAEDP had issued a public statement citing Taiwan’s legal commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulate that “the government may not currently proceed with executions, as procedures have not yet been set up for seeking pardons.”
The statement also pointed out President Ma Ying-jeou’s promise to “reduce the use of the death penalty and wait until the public has reached a consensus to end it”, as well as his assurance that “the government will work to reduce the application of the death penalty”.
“Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence”
On the eve of the executions, TAEDP held a candlelight vigil outside the Ministry of Justice, to protest the Ministry’s intention to kill the five condemned prisoners. In addition, it issued a second public statement, challenging in strong terms the legality of the executions.
The statement reiterated the phrase “anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence” in the ICCPR as a part of Taiwan’s legal responsibility on both national and international levels.
“Procedures have not yet been set up for seeking pardons,” the statement continued. “There is no justification for ‘speeding up’ executions before this very consequential problem with our justice system has been resolved.”
Journalists informed, but prisoners and their families kept in the dark
On the day of the executions, the condemned were not informed about their impeding execution, and their families and lawyers were not permitted to visit. On the other hand, several newspapers were notified, and it was their articles which alerted TAEDP to the gravity of the situation.
TAEDP noted the government’s promise of “extreme care to ensure prisoners’ rights”, while it unilaterally changed prison conditions for death row inmates to restrict their letter-writing rights and visits from family members.
“Where is the justice in denying the families [of the condemned] a final chance to see their loved one?” protested Lin Hsin-Yi, executive director of TAEDP.