Chen, Hundred Names and the Rough Waters of Human Rights

In the world of human rights, there is always a tension between those in power and the common folk. There needn't be. In Chinese, the term Lao Mingzi means Old Hundred Names. It is an idiom that denotes the mass of society, encompassing the traditional surnames of Chinese culture. Typically, those in power have the prerogative of respecting or denying the rights of the common people. Still, there are times when power reverses and the former holders of power find themselves down among the common people in terms of tenuous agency with regards to human rights.

Such is the case with former President Chen of Taiwan. Imprisoned, he is currently tossed by the rough waters of a calculated denial of medical treatment and subsequent human rights abuses. No wonder President Assad of Syria is fighting like there is no tomorrow. He might have read the details of President Chen Shui Bian's treatment by Taiwan's current government, even though Chen was president from 2000 to 2008.

Chen is in jail for corruption charges, some of which might are real and some are not, according to international observers and legal observers. Chen is serving a 19-year sentence for corruption charges (all charges are for nonviolent offenses). He has served over 1240 days in a cell of sixty square feet (5x12) and with a continual stream of other prisoners as fellow cellmates. Water is on for only ten minutes each day. There is no sunlight. There is no shower. There is no bed, table, or even permitted speaking with other cellmates. He is permitted 30 minutes of exercise each day. The only regular "amenity" is a squat toilet.

After complaining of not feeling well for months, he finally got a medical review on March 6, 2012, because of pressure from 13 members of his opposition party. The result of the medical review found out why he was not feeling well. It was the result of having prostate cancer and an acute coronary syndrome causing reduced blood flows. He discovered from the review that he'd been put on a benzodiazepine (a class of drugs that includes Valium and involves a high risk of dependence, as well as a host of other negative side effects). Chen rejected these drugs and, after undergoing a cardiac catheterization procedure, he was returned to the same conditions in prison within a days.

Why I am writing about President Chen is that he is at risk of dying in prison due to the Taiwanese government engaging in willful medical neglect. He is about to die imprisoned by a government he ran for years because that government will not grant him the basic human right or reasonable care. I hope the Tom Lantos Human Rights commission, which has done some fine human rights work, might be persuaded to intervene with public statements and to use their strength to help this abused prisoner, even if he is guilty of the corruption charges.

California Representative Dan Lungren has asked this committee to help. What is hard to understand is why our government as a whole is not upset about another democratic government mistreating and maybe killing its former president. Is this not a human right violation by an an enormously important trade partner and a leading light of contemporary change in the Chinese-speaking world? Why is this not covered in the press? The illness of the Ukrainian president was brought to our American attention when it was in the interest of our strategic plans for that region. Why no coverage for an important trade partner's former leader who is affiliated with a party currently in opposition? We should stand for no less than basic human rights for all people. Nobody suggests that former political officials in the United States be denied medical treatments due to their political defeat or ending up in custody. I can only hope that we would stand up for the treatment of anyone else for the same principle of equitable treatment in custody.

These are the latest facts. And I'd like to be clear in asking you to call your congressional representatives as soon as you read this. Chen has failed lung function tests three times since his March 6 health exam. A lesion was spotted in one lung. He coughs continually. He is short of breath with a constant feeling of chest pressure. These details were leaked, not publicly released. The family, contrary to Taiwanese law, has not been given his medical records. On April 23, 2012, Chen was diagnosed with a second tumor in his prostate. On this trip to the hospital, he was allowed only a two-hour visit with his family. Taiwan's laws require better treatment. Chen is not getting this treatment. Though all his assets are frozen, he nevertheless has to arrange for payment for his medical procedures.

All I am asking for is good medical treatment of this prisoner. That is it. Taiwan may not like this former president; they may even hate him. It does not matter. Taiwan's people and hearts don't need to be with this man simply because he ran the nation. People should know, and believe, that any prisoner will be treated like a human being with all the attendant human rights that entails, including access to medical care. Using a prison system to kill an opponent is savage and ruthless. The present government of Taiwan must not maim and kill using the slow and painful death by neglect.

What I am asking you for a letter to the Tom Lantos Committee for Human Rights, to the White House and to your congressional representatives. If human rights are to mean anything, if leaders of any government of any kind are to be encouraged to respect the basic rights of reasonable care, it is imperative to not have people subjected to imprisonment and the withholding of care as a tactic of political revenge or grudge-settling.

Taiwan has come a long way to tolerate and respect human rights from its uglier past of dictatorship. It has, until recently, shown itself to be a beacon of freedom and human rights in the generally retrograde political world of Chinese politics with regard to human rights. This does not give it, nor should it give anyone, the ability to simply opt-out in the treatment of a prisoner's basic human rights for reasonable medical care.

An email is good. A phone call is better. A follow-up with a physical letter is best. Please do what you can to safeguard the rights of prisoners of all walks of life. Nobody should die in prison for lack of access to a medical care system that can help them live. Human rights should be rights for all humans and not some humans.

You can find and contact your political representatives in the United States by looking here: You should NOT wait to do this. A human life hangs in the balance. The treatment of those who have been politically defeated must adhere to minimal standards to make it clear to despots around the world that loss of power will not lead to death by neglect. The treatment of humans should adhere to the standards of universal human rights.

Please. Take a moment to make the call and write the letters and emails. A life hangs in the balance.