Time to speak out against injustice

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
— Elie Wiesel

Taiwan’s courts have handed down not guilty verdicts in two notable cases this week. Former president Chen Shui-bian was found not guilty in the Supreme Court in the special diplomatic funds case. The verdict was only briefly reported by most media, however its significance should not be ignored.

The verdict further vindicates A-bian’s claims that he is innocent and a victim of political persecution. In November last year A-bian and his co-defendants were all found not guilty in the financial mergers case. However, just one week later the Supreme Court ruled that A-bian and his wife Wu Shu-jen were guilty in the Longtan land deal case.

In the period between these two verdicts there was a firestorm of rhetoric from KMT politicians urging voters to show their contempt for the not guilty verdict by voting for the KMT in the upcoming elections. This subsequently led some people to question the independence of the judiciary when it handed down a guilty verdict and long prison sentences to A-bian and his wife just one week later.

The other case involves Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬). Su was found not guilty of corruption charges by the District Court today. This case dates back to November 2008 which was around the same time that A-bian was first detained. Su went on an 11 day hunger strike to protest her detention before she was indicted and released. At the time of her detention Su claimed that she was a victim of “judicial persecution” and her claim is now vindicated.

Tsai Ing-wen posted the following comment on her Facebook page regarding the verdict in Su’s case. My translation in English follows.

今天下午,蘇治芬縣長在一審獲判無罪,在等待判決的這段期間,我相信雲林鄉親和我一樣,對蘇縣長個人能力、操守一直抱以高度的肯定和信任,現在司法還給蘇縣長清白,也還給所有的雲林鄉親一個公道,個人感到相當欣慰。

同時,檢察系統動輒政治辦案,濫刑起訴、濫權收押,侵害人民司法人權的嚴重狀況,已經到了不得不全面檢討、改革的地步,這也將是未來我們推動司法改革的重點。

[This afternoon Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen was found not guilty in the first hearing. During the period of waiting for the verdict I believe that the people of Yunlin County have always kept their trust in the ability and personal integrity of Su just like I have. The justice system has returned Su’s state of innocence. It has also given the people of Yunlin County a sense of justice. Everybody can have a sense of feeling gratified.

At the same time, the prosecutors have easily politicised cases, indiscriminately filed charges and excessively used pre-trial detention. The situation of judicial rights is serious and infringes on everyone. It has reached the point where there is no choice but to make the promotion of a comprehensive review and reform of the justice system a key focus in the future.]

I was disappointed by Tsai’s weak response to my question about the death penalty at the meeting last Saturday. However, her comments about judicial reform in response to another question were much more impressive. I think these comments show that Tsai realises judicial reform is a task of the utmost importance if she is elected to the presidency. However, despite her legal background this is a task that Tsai cannot complete on her own. She needs strong support from the legal community and all those who support human rights and justice in Taiwan.

In June 2009 Professor Jerome Cohen expressed his dismay at the failure of legal scholars in Taiwan to speak out more about the problems in the judicial system. In the past couple of weeks we have seen the government’s fiery response to an open letter by a group of concerned Taiwan scholars. Most of the signatories to the letter are based overseas so it is not surprising scholars in Taiwan are reluctant to make similar petitions. However, as long they continue to be passive in the face of injustice it will only continue. And if it is allowed to continue then they may find themselves becoming victims. This is not a time for silence. It is time to speak out.

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