Spring in the Horse Year: Free Chen Shui-bian

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has just sent a representative to meet with a high-ranking member of the Chinese government in Beijing. Given the proximity of Taiwan to the People's Republic, among other things, this should be neither unusual nor a source of criticism. But President Ma is a member of the Kuomintang (KMT), the party of Chiang Kai-shek that has governed Taiwan after losing the civil war in China, and "relocating" to Taiwan and the horrors they visited upon the ten thousand or more killed in the 2/28 Incident. In other words, the party that lost China is speaking to the party that won it. Diplomacy is better than violence so this is a generally good development given the tensions that have gripped the Straits for over a half-century. Having said that, the delusion that all of China is governed from Taipei is exceeded only by the delusion that Taipei is governed from Beijing. The majority of Taiwanese want do not want to reunify with the People's Republic. The majority of Taiwan's peoples want freedom in their personal lives and in their political choices.

There is a regular debate among Taiwan watchers over the future of this "fragrant island." It involves the question of just what is meant by status quo in polls. Both Blue (read: KMT and allies) and Green (read: DPP and allies) manipulate polling data to serve their political ends. So let us look only at numbers that are more clearly out of the gray areas of semantic debate. Over 54 percent of Taiwanese feel that warming cross-straits relations has benefited the People's Republic more than it has benefited Taiwan. Ma Ying-jeou has an approval rating that has been below 10 percent and struggles to achieve even fifteen percent. The frustration level is very high in Taiwan at the current administration and it's not getting any better. To make matters more ridiculous, President Ma is not eligible for reelection in 2016. So what is happening here?

The only time an opposition party has won the presidency in Taiwan was the election of Chen Shui-bian in 2000 and reelection in 2004. During his tenure, he initiated and oversaw a number of initiatives to give a voice to the previously silenced constituency who sought a greater voice for Taiwan to decide on its own future. Since leaving office, the former president has been prosecuted and ruthlessly pursued by Ma Ying-jeou's personal allies (personal, since it seems preposterous that the entire KMT would take such a patently merciless series of actions against an ailing former Head of State). He is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence while his health deteriorates under conditions superficially nice and sincerely treacherous. On top of that, he continues to have new cases brought in for prosecution. Is it a personal vendetta on the part of Ma? Is the KMT angered by having lost face in two national election losses? Is it the voice of wealthy industrialists keen to expand lucrative trade contracts with the People's Republic? Who knows? Who knows what the future of Taiwan should be? It is not our place to speak on the question of Taiwan's future. That question is to be answered by the peoples of Taiwan. On the question of universal human rights both explicit and implied? We can talk about that. On a human rights basis, we maintain that Chen should be released immediately.

Many Taiwanese, including those from both Blue and Green elements of the political spectrum and particular those who believe in universal human rights, President Ma has turned his back on anything resembling humanitarian principles. There is a building belief that sentencing Taiwan's only opposition Head of State to a lengthy prison term is a poor model for pluralist politics. There is a strong belief that the judicial process of prosecuting Chen Shui-bian was badly tainted with party (KMT against DPP) bias. There is a very strong belief that there continue to be human rights principles violated.

The Human Rights Action Center has twice sent representatives to Taiwan to determine the detention conditions of Chen Shui-bian. The first visit was fairly high-profile and focused while the second had a lower profile and included a comprehensive examination of human rights in Taiwan. Both visits came to the conclusion that Chen has had medical care systematically neglected in such a way as to create, worsen, or make permanent several serious conditions. He has been deprived of access to his physicians and care of choice. Medical and judicial record requests have been denied by the KMT government in spite of agreement from Chen and his family. On these bases alone, the only course to mitigate the damage done to Chen's human rights and civil rights is to permit him a suspended sentence, parole, pardon, or the ability to serve his time at home with family and medical support of choice. Again, the issue of Taiwan's politics are a decision for the people of Taiwan. But on the issue of the incarceration of Chen Shui-bian, we call on readers to join the likes of Senators Durbin, Brown, and other Congresspeople of conscience to send him home now. Any American with a voice is urged to take action directly by contacting your members of Congress to ask for their support. Any other global citizens are urged to write to their governments for the same request. We will not be silent until this man is allowed the dignity he deserves and the protection that should be afforded to all peoples. Once again, we call on Ma Ying-jeou to free Chen Shui-bian. Now.