February 4, 2009[Taiwan]
Mr. Su Jun-pin
Government Information Office, Executive Yuan
Republic of China (Taiwan)
Dear Minister Su,
China Rights Network of Toronto would like to thank you sincerely for your letter of January 9 in which you comment on the human rights concerns that we expressed in our letter to President Ma of December 22, 2008. We appreciate, in particular, the diligent work of Mr. Kuo, the Director of your Toronto Information Office. We are impressed that you have provided substantial detail in defence of your government's actions. This reinforces our belief that President Ma is truly determined to protect human rights.
However, despite your explanations, we remain concerned. Other international human rights organizations are also anxious that your government's actions could be undermining observance of human rights norms in the Republic of China. Given the impressive reforms of the past fifteen years, it will truly be a shame if Taiwan slips backward. May we get to the point with specific comments on your letter.
Regarding the concerns that many people have with the Chen Shui-bian trial, we do not wish to deny or ignore the fact that he and members of his family are charged with corruption. Indeed, we share the disappointment of people like Lin Cho-shui in his new book “歷史劇場” over this alleged betrayal of trust. Our concern is that since November the process itself has become a “劇場” (theatre).
The government acted with amazing, and one might say alarming, alacrity to demands from legislator Qiu Yi and a United Daily News editorial that former President Chen be returned to jail; and the judge who let him out on bail was promptly removed. More significantly, these demands were immediately and approvingly reported by the KMT News Network news feeds. We find ourselves wondering why legislator Qiu Yi appears to have such influence. Of course, we realize that you do not work for KNN, and we are not implying that this is your responsibility as GIO Director.
We were troubled, as well, to see the January 8 Justice Day skit performed by prosecutors shockingly defended by Minister of Justice Wang as unproblematic because they were simply "reflecting public sentiment''. Is Ms. Wang aware of the shock waves this little “劇場” has created beyond Taiwan? It is never the function of prosecutors to “reflect public opinion”. Unfortunately, your letter has not lessened our concerns that the trial of former President Chen has become more of a public lynching than a serious and painful process in which the core values of a democratic polity are once again reaffirmed by passing judgement over one who has violated them.
In view of these and many other incidents, we cannot agree with the assertion that “there is no evidence that the procedure is…not fair or objective”. Indeed, we are sure you are aware of the January 23 ruling by the Council of Justices that police recording on interviews of prisoners with their lawyers is unconstitutional (with reference to Chen Shui-bian and his lawyer Cheng Wen-lung). The ruling implies that such evidence has been seen by prosecutors, which would clearly be a case of unfair procedure.
Regarding Mr. Cheng we would also like to bring to your attention the January 2nd notice by the Ministry of Justice to the Taipei Prosecutors' Office and the Taipei Bar Association to investigate him for violation of ethics rules he allegedly made in publicizing his client’s messages. Is it not a mockery of ethics rules to repeatedly overlook leaks of prosecutorial evidence by the media and legislators (legislator Qiu Yi being again among the foremost in this regard), but cite Mr. Cheng for similar actions?
On point 2, the protests around Chen Yonglin’s visit, we realize that there is enough blame to go around on all sides here. We are familiar with the sharp criticisms made of the DPP by social activists in Taiwan that it did not take elementary organizational to control the demonstration. Nonetheless, your unsubstantiated numbers (170 police vs 40 protestors) are not convincing, because numerous reports, blogs and YouTube videos express legitimate concerns about excessive police violence on that day. We realize that you are constrained in how you respond to criticism, as are all government spokespersons, but such minimalization does not improve your government's reputation.
We accept that there was no government order to remove flags, but there was clearly a practice of doing so that day. Moreover, a similar practice appears to have been followed along the streets of Taipei the day China’s pandas arrived. This deepens our concern about the re-emergence of the habits of a party state.
On point 5, issues of freedom of the press, we are not reassured by your comments. A more convincing solution would be to see strong words supporting the PTN and its budget from either the Party (which must have some influence over its own legislators) or the President. While he does not control the legislature, he has the moral mandate and responsibility to defend the constitution and Taiwan’s democracy.
Other incidents, minor in themselves but major in their implications, deserve your attention; for example, the punishment meted out in November by the Financial Supervisory Commission to financial analyst Alan Chu for his “stupid president” article. Recently we have heard that your own office has been involved in a reversal of a request by the editors of Taiwan journal for a book review by June Teufel-Dryer of “Maritime Taiwan”. We do not doubt that freedom of speech in Taiwan is alive and well, at times even to the point of excess. However, when a new government in a country where opinion is often sharply divided undertakes policies that are controversial, it is preferable to be careful about even the appearance of questionable practices.
The issue of a “party state” still concerns us, though we are confident that Taiwan is a vibrant democracy that will not regress to the pre-1987 days. Our concerns are not, however, entirely allayed. As long-time students of party politics in China and Taiwan, from the Nanking decade until today, we observe that one of the persistent features of political decision making is that it often happens inside the party, with little public debate; and that the fora where decisions are formally made, or the bureaux where they are implemented, are not usually the locus of power. President Lee Teng-hui turned these characteristics of Taiwan’s political culture to good advantage in his management of Taiwan’s democratic transition. Moreover, he promoted public debate about these processes with the 1990 National Affairs Conference. We are worried that recent events point to a regression towards a closed process of political decision making.
In addition to your response, we have read Chairman Wu Po-hsiung’s statement on the “second track” nature of KMT-CCP meetings. This is exactly the kind of “unofficial” exchange of views and potential policy development that has been common in China, ever since the Nanking decade. This kind of closed process is workable in China because one party to the discussions, the CCP, is the ultimate decision maker, exercising power over the government. In short, we have to conclude that your assurances are somewhat naïve. On the other hand we realize that you are not a spokesperson for the Party, and so perhaps cannot say much more than what you have.
The incidents referred to in our exchange of letters including the Chen Yong-lin visit and the Chen Shui-bian trial, convince us that we can make much more sense of events if we look behind the 劇場 for underlying understandings that guide all these actors. However, in view of widely expressed views in Taiwan and abroad that he is not fully in control of the Party, we do not allege that President Ma is personally responsible for all of this. As human rights advocates we are concerned that there is still a lot happening inside the Party that should concern both ourselves and the President.
To sum up, we respectfully point out the China Rights Network and Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada are not alone in their concern about trends in the Republic of China. Independent, impartial human rights organizations have expressed similar anxieties and urged the government to fully respect civil and political rights. We would like to give your government the benefit of the doubt, and accept your assertion that you have no intention of sliding backwards. But assertions are one thing while actions ultimately tell the tale. We will continue to observe developments over the coming months with great interest and a critical eye.
Michael Craig, Chair Michael Stainton, President
China Rights Network
Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Canadian Human Rights Associations Letter to GIO Minister
Two Canadian human rights associations have written a response to a letter from the GIO to them regarding the various issues that have arisen in recent months in Taiwan. An informed and reasonable letter: