Taiwan visit tarnished by six executions
The Taiwanese member of the World Coalition, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), organised the trip extremely well.
On the first evening, a meeting was organised with diplomats from the European Union stationed in Taipei, followed by an friendly reception by Taiwanese abolitionists and the president of the TAEDP, Hei-Yuan Chiu.
In terms of official appointments, the first meeting was held with Ambassador Rong-chuan Wu, in charge of relations with NGOs at the ministry for foreign affairs. The diplomat’s answers to the questions put by Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, vice-president of the World Coalition, and various speakers on the reasons why executions continue did not lead to a change in position.
The diplomat said that he was “concerned by the issue of the death penalty” and he was certain that evolution was “inevitable”. Asserting furthermore that Taiwan respected human rights, he hid behind public opinion which favours this most extreme punishment.
The most solemn moment was the meeting with President Ma Ying-jeou. Greeted by the guard of honour at the presidential palace, the members of the Steering Committee took their place in a reception hall where the young and dynamic head of state had invited the press.
Talks were then held behind closed doors. The Taiwanese leader, surrounded by a group of advisers, answered the preliminary remarks of World Coalition president Florence Bellivier to vigorously assert that Taiwan was doing everything possible to “reduce the number of executions”.
“Most of the population” in favour of death penalty according to the President
The head of the executive nevertheless indicated that his country “maintained the death penalty as most of the population was in favour”. He justified Taiwan’s retentionist policy by the fact that life imprisonment was not part of the Criminal Code and abolition of capital punishment would be seen by the population as an encouragement to criminality.
President Ma dodged questions from the World Coalition’s president on why he has not used his right to pardon prisoners sentenced to death once an execution order has been signed.
At the ministry of justice, responding to the remarks of World Coalition vicep-president Elisabeth Zitrin, the deputy minister, Chen-huan Wu, did not reveal any softening in the position on executions which had nonetheless been frozen during the moratorium from 2005 to 2010.
“The law forces us to execute prisoners,” he said. He did not answer questions on the right of court-appointed lawyers to have the resources to accomplish their task or on when the Commission on the death penalty would resume its work.
1.5 sq. m. per prisoner
The visit to the detention centre in the capital Taipei lifted the veil on a prison housing 3,000 prisoners even though it only has a capacity of 2,100, where eight to nine detainees are crammed into each cell, leading to overcrowding (1.5 sq. m. per person).
During the lightning quick visit, the World Coalition delegation was able to see detainees working in several workshops, such as the bakery, whose products are sold commercially. However, death row and the execution chamber were closed to all visitors.
That prison is home to high-profile death row prisoner Chiou Ho-shun, who received a capital sentence for the murder of a child 25 years ago. His case and that of African-American journalist Mumia Abu Jamal present many common points. Jacky Hortaut, a member of Collectif Mumia and of the World Coalition’s executive board, raised this case on several occasions including at the meeting with President Ma (photo), who said a new trial may take place after Chiou exhausts his final appeal soon.
A delegation led by Florence, Bellivier was able to visit Taichung prison to meet Cheng Hsin-tze, another prisoner sentenced to death.
Six provocative executions
In a show of provocation, 24 hours after the representatives of the World Coalition left Taipei, brutal news was transmitted by TAEDP: six prisoners sentenced to death had been shot on 19 April. The World Coalition declared itself “horrified” by the news which “sends a worrying message to the international community”.
“The leaders of this country are hiding behind public opinion to justify executions. President Ma and his ministers who received the World Coalition delegation did not dare say openly that they are in favour of the death penalty, hypocritically claiming that they will end this punishment but without giving a time limit,” said TAEDP president Hei-yuan Chiu.