An Open Letter to Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou

President Ma,

I write you with considerable respect for both your position and your person. I also write you inspired by Taiwanese who I have known personally in the United States and have met with in Taiwan itself. It is in that spirit that I ask you to read these words. The former President Chen is serving time in prison for violating the law. He has served over four years since his conviction and has spent twenty three hours per day in a cell shared with another prisoner that is only six feet by ten feet. Permitted only an hour per day out of his cell, until recently he'd only been given thirty minutes a day. Mr. Chen's health is not good. His access to hospital finally allowed, the medical care he received was helpful but unable to fully survey his medical needs.

Unlike former Presidents Fujimori of Peru or Pinochet of Chile, Mr. Chen has no violent human rights record that he's been charged with. And yet, those violent former presidents have been treated better than Mr. Chen. In the United States, we have prosecuted and convicted politicians from the most local to national offices, but we do not systematically deny those people access to health care due to political differences. The political differences between your party's positions and those of Mr. Chen's party should not be used as a punitive weapon. In a functioning democracy, such behavior is an affront to the very principles that allow people to give mandates to governments.

Would it really harm the interests of Taiwan if you provided good health care to Mr. Chen? Would it harm Taiwan to provide a larger space for his incarceration? These two affirmations of human rights would honor the office Mr. Chen held previously and that you hold now. The individuals that hold office may come and go, but the imperatives for attention given to universal human rights standards should remain constant, even for those who are incarcerated.

Republican and Democratic concerns for former President Chen's health and treatment have begun to register in the Congress in D.C. This concern is likely to deepen and may soon include other former heads of state from various countries. If President Chen's health deteriorates much further, the choice may become more stark between a pardon or his death while in custody. Both of those outcomes would present stronger challenges to the Taiwanese legal system or the legitimacy of inter-party political transitions there.

Recently, Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi , a prisoner in her own home, was allowed to run and win a seat in the Parliament. Even in her period of incarceration, the brutal military regime recognized her imperatives for at least some medical care and more freedom of movement. The changes that have happened since her release has resulted in the suspension of sanctions in Burma and an increase in esteem for her country. We would hope that Taiwan would have a strong commitment to the human rights that its people have valued and tried to protect, and that all of its citizens would be treated with the basics of medical access and livable space allowed. Denying such fundamental respect to nonviolent convicts is particularly galling. The people of Taiwan deserve a greater legacy and an adherence to the principles of decency. All of humankind does.

Respectfully, John G Healey