Saturday, 8 May 2010

Taiwan: Human rights protest over executions

Protest Against The Ministry of Justice’s Illegal Executions
Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) Press Release May, 1st, 2010

Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP), Judicial Reform Foundation (JRF), Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), Amnesty International Taiwan (AI Taiwan), Taiwan Labor Front, Human Rights Committee of the Taipei Bar Association, Regional Tibetan Youth Congress Taiwan, Taiwan Green Party and Humanistic Education Foundation together handed a letter of protest to the Ministry of Justice on May, 1st to remonstrate with the Minister of Justice, Tseng Yung- Fu, about the cursory order to execute four death row prisoners. Amnesty International (AI) published a news release to denounce the Taiwanese government for resuming executions and stated that this move has seriously damaged Taiwan’s human rights record.

The Minster of Justice, Tseng Yung-Fu, signed the orders for the executions, killing the four death row inmates, Chang Chun-Hong, Chang Wen-Wei, Hong Chen Yeow, and Ke Shi-Ming, in the space of just over an hour on April 30th. Their families weren’t informed and they were not able to meet the four men for the last time before they died.

We are shocked and enraged at these so-called "executions according to law". Below are our responses to the reasons for the executions given by the Ministry of Justice:

Illegal Execution of Chang Chun-Hong
On behalf of the 44 death row inmates, TAEDP asked 7 lawyers to demand a constitutional interpretation from the Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan. But due to time constraints, legal letters of authorization were not obtained in time from Chang Chun-Hong, Chang Wen-Wei, Hong Chen Yeow, and Ke Shi-Ming. Nevertheless, concerning the procedural items, the Department of Clerks for the Justices of the Constitutional Court sent letters to the 7 lawyers to asking them to provide these document within ten days (up to May 3rd, 2010). Besides, at the same time, it also tried to reach the four death row inmates in different prisons to learn their wills regarding the constitutional interpretation.

TAEDP contacted the four death row inmates after receiving the letter. Chang Chun-Hong then sent the letter of authorization with his signature on April 26th. He showed his willingness to appoint TAEDP’s lawyers to demand a constitutional interpretation. Therefore, Chang’s demand was without question totally legal.

In accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s "Implementation Guidelines of The Review of Death Penalty Cases," the first rule of the first item of the second article states that, for cases pending constitutional interpretation, the highest court cannot send the orders of executions to the Minister of Justice. It is a shame that the Minister, however, ignored the demand, signing the orders for the executions illegally and said that they acted in accordance with the law.

Unknown Will of Ke
While Chang Wen-Wei and Hong Chen Yeow directly refused to approve the demand for constitutional interpretations, the fourth death row inmates Ke Shi-Ming didn’t actually reply. TAEDP sent representatives to the Tainan prison to meet Ke in person, but the staff replied that Ke was banned from meeting anyone. They could not tell the representatives of TAEDP if Ke received TAEDP’s letter and if he was able to write letters freely. Thus, we had no idea whether Ke refused to approve the demand for constitutional interpretations.

No Fair Trial
Three of the death row inmates executed didn’t have any defense lawyers when they receiving the final rulings upholding the death penalty from the highest court. According to the International Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by President Ma, any death row inmates should have defense lawyers in any stage of the trial as legitimate legal procedures. However, Article 388 of the Criminal Procedure Law in Taiwan violates the ICCPR. Given the opportunity, the Grand Justices might have a chance to uphold this basic right recognized by the international society and might rule the death penalty unconstitutional. The Minster of Justice Tseng, nonetheless, intentionally and recklessly ignored this and acted before the decisions of the Grand Justices. The Ministry of Justice exceeded its powers over the mandates of the Judicial Yuan, claiming its action was "in accordance with the law," treating human life as if it were worthless. It proves that the Ministry of Justice’s promises to be cautious regarding execution were nothing but lies. Therefore, the Minister of Justice needs to shoulder the political responsibility.

Blindness to the ICCPR
On March, 29th, TAEDP also helped the 44 death row inmates demand pardons (the commutation of the penalty) from the President. President Ma didn’t refuse and stated that he had received the demand and asked the Ministry of Justice for further discussions. Nothing about this was mentioned in the press release of the Ministry of Justice. It could be seen as blindness to the ICCPR and overstepping its authority. If the government really wants to "administer in accordance with the law," it should make it clear how they processed the demand for commutation of the death penalty.

The Indignation of Men and Gods?
The Minister of Justice claimed that he would exercise his power carefully. Beside the original procedures, Tseng said another consultative group would be formed for circumspect consideration of the cases "arousing the indignation of men and gods." But now the only standard we can see is "the right to seal and authorize." After the handling of the letter of authorization in this case, the Minister of Justice should announce the names of the members of this consultative group and related information for public scrutiny.

The TAEDP feels deeply distressed that the 4 year and half moratorium on the death penalty was destroyed in one day and firmly appeals to the general public to rethink the death penalty. While there is still controversy over the death penalty, without careful procedures, the Ministry of Justice speeded up the executions instead of reexamining related laws and rules. It is again another manifestation of how the government signed the ICCPR with one hand and broke it with the other.

In the press release of the Ministry of Justice, it was said that "as for the 40 people demanding constitutional interpretations, the Ministry of Justice would see how it develops and act in accordance with the law." Consequently, we request the passage of legislation concerning commutation and an immediate stop to executions.

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