In Taiwan, Former President's Dignity Must Be Respected

Imagine Taiwan in the past and how far it has come. The willingness and wisdom to evolve into a pluralistic democracy from an authoritarian system has been in step with South Korea as leading the transformation in respecting human rights and international standards in East Asia. The moves made towards these standards have lit the way for other countries making transitions towards democracy. How troubling that currently the leadership in Taipei of Mr. Ma seems to have lost its way and to have reverted towards the more monolithic past.

The Human Rights Action Center has conducted an assessment of the conditions under which Taiwan has kept its former two-term president incarcerated. From the testimony of medical professionals, from a review of the medical records which have been released, from meetings with officials across the spectrum of the political divide, and from time spent directly with Chen Shui-bian himself, our conclusions are unequivocal.

Chen Shui-bian's conditions of his four-year detention have contributed to both the worsening of pre-existing medical conditions and the creation of new medical needs. Simply put, Mr. Chen was treated badly in the prison system of Taiwan. How bad was it? The smallish cell did not allow him to stretch out while sleeping; he was confined in this cell over 23 hours a day; no bed, not desk, and no chair; a bright fluorescent light was on 24 hours a day so that a monitor could watch his every move even when he used the no-flush toilet hole. His crimes, if valid, were non violent. Unlike the former President of Peru, who is in jail for violent human rights abuses, has a four room cell and unlike Richard Nixon of the United States who was pardoned and set free. Winning the vote of your nation twice should entitle one to something even if in prison, if not pardoned.

The unwillingness of the prison authorities, the Ministry of Justice, and the administration of Ma Ying-jeou himself to provide access to complete medical care has been both a complicit and active cause of grave health complications for the former elected president. The understandings we were given that there would be impartial and fully transparent access to medical care permitted? They have been largely discarded or ignored, much to the distress of those concerned with human rights or those concerned with Taiwan's standing in the international community for such issues.

We urge, again, for the administration of President Ma, the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, the Taipei Mayor's Office, the KMT itself and all those interested in Taiwan's continued credibility as a mature democracy, we urge that there be a full and complete allowance of Chen Shui-bian to be treated according to the assessment of a team composed of as many "green" doctors as "blue" ones. We further urge that the government consider granting medical parole, amnesty, or the ability for him to serve his sentence out under house arrest. Our judgment based on the results of the first four years of Chen's imprisonment is that Mr. Chen should be released to go home and recover or die in peace. Enough damage has been done to this man. He is presently in a psychiatric hospital for a month with the threat of returning to prison after that. Is the government of Taiwan really the best group to be judging their former political opponent's mental health?

Mr. Chen has many medical problems. His confinement has caused him to experience heart conditions, difficulty in breathing, urinating problems, sleep apnea, slurred speech and stuttering. And he has been diagnosed with severe depression and victim paranoia. MRI tests showed that Mr. Chen has suffered at least 16 cerebral infarcts or mini-strokes. From to toe to foot, there are problems that only long-term care could take care of. Sending him back to jail after his release from the hospital would be a death sentence. Given the serious differences in Taiwan, this would argue well for the future of politics there.

The divisions in Taiwan's body politic are worsening with the condition of the former president. The social unity that once managed to arch across Taiwan's diversity of peoples is fracturing. The fact that President Ma faces low approval ratings.

Our current experience of watching the government make statements of assurance and then to abandon them leads us to believe that the only way in which Chen's health will be able to be looked after are under the independent care of his own medical team or through something like parole, amnesty, or house arrest. The prison authorities have shown little inclination to be capable or willing to follow through. The office of the president seems to be avoiding the responsibility of its legacy to all the peoples of Taiwan.

We are available for interview or comment to any interested journalists and policymakers and will be pursuing channels for maximizing international attention on this issue. We stand with the human rights community, with the peoples of Taiwan, and with those interested in the international standards of the community of nations. We stand with the health and medical well-being of Chen Shui-bian. We are pleased to know that Democrats and Republican congresspeople support medical release. We invite the government of Taiwan to stand with us in spirit, speech, and action and we look forward to being joined.