But a growing chorus of Taiwanese and foreign scholars are echoing – albeit in more measured tones – villagers' concerns about how the case is being handled. The criticisms have put this young democracy's judicial system in the spotlight, as it struggles to handle one of its most politically charged cases yet.As I recall, the Supreme Court decision calling taping of lawyer-client meetings in prison unconstitutional does not apply to the Chen case. Hence taping may still be going on. Adams' piece is especially timely because yesterday another letter from concerned international scholars was published in the Taipei Times:
Chen – who irked Beijing and Washington with his loud trumpeting of Taiwan's autonomy – faces charges of accepting bribes, misusing state funds, and money laundering. If convicted, he could be jailed for life.
He says he's innocent. He acknowledged last year that his wife wired $21 million abroad, but said that money was leftover campaign contributions. He's been in on-and-off detention since Nov. 11, including a month without charge– a sore point for critics of Taiwan's judiciary.
Media leaks and detention without charge
Critics also object to the reassigning of Chen's case to a judge seen as less sympathetic to Chen; a skit by prosecutors mocking Chen, which they say reflected judicial bias; and persistent leaks about the case to the media. (Click here for open letters from a group of foreign scholars in November, December, and January).
The government insists it has not interfered with the case, and the justice minister and other officials have denied any political bias or influence. (Click here for the government's responses in November, January, and February.)
In a December poll conducted by Taiwan's Academia Sinica, 50 percent of Taiwanese said the island's judicial system was biased (compared with 38 percent who said it was impartial), while 59 percent said Taiwanese law did not sufficiently safeguard human rights.
At Taiwan's own Judicial Reform Foundation (a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit), executive director Lin Feng-jeng says Chen's case highlights broader problems. The most serious, he says, is loose lips.
"All the information in this case was leaked to the media – that's our biggest criticism," says Mr. Lin. "And they still haven't fixed the problem."
Lin's group also says Taiwan should emulate Japan, which only allows holding suspects without charge for 20 days – instead of four months, as permitted in Taiwan. "Sometimes you need to lock someone up because they might flee," says Lin. "But four months is too much."
Finally, the foundation has long criticized the practice of cops recording conversations between detained suspects and their lawyers, as happened with Chen. Lin says on this front there's progress: Taiwan's top court has ruled such recordings unconstitutional.
Taiwanese resent control by those who fled China
Here in Chen's hometown, villagers also voice such concerns, flavored with a strong dash of partisanship. The village sits in Taiwan's breadbasket, a land of flat, expansive rice and sugar-cane fields, lingjiao (water caltrop) paddies, and banana trees. Older residents are often illiterate and don't speak Mandarin (they use Taiwanese, which is derived from a southern Chinese dialect).
When they talk, they lay bare the scars of Taiwan's defining communal division between Taiwanese like them, who have lived and farmed here for centuries (84 percent of the population), and Mainlanders who came to Taiwan with the Kuomintang and announced martial law in 1949 (now 14 percent).
For younger, urban Taiwanese, that communal divide is less and less significant. But for the older generation in Hsichuang, it's still very much alive. And it clearly colors their view of Chen's trial.
We raise these issues as international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy who care deeply about the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state. As you recall, we voiced concerns on three previous occasions, most recently in a letter to you, Mr President, dated Jan. 17, 2009, in which we expressed our concern regarding the fairness of the judicial system in Taiwan.It is evident from stuff I've read on the seminar at GWU the other day that the community of Taiwan scholars is becoming aware that Taiwan's democracy is not as secure as it was thought to be. As I've noted in the past, the anschluss with China cannot go forward without significant damage to Taiwan's democracy, since nobody here wants to be part of the PRC. That is why the KMT has been careful to insulate the ECFA agreements and the negotiations from oversight by the legislature -- the legislature it controls! -- and from democratic oversight by the public in the form of referendums, and to have those negotiations carried out by KMT party officials Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung, and not appointtees of the Administration accountable to the public.
These concerns have not been alleviated by either the response from Government Information Office Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) or the cessation of troubling, flawed and partial judicial proceedings, in particular involving the case of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
We reiterate that any alleged corruption must be investigated, but emphasize that the judicial process needs to be scrupulously fair and impartial. In the case of the former president, it is evident that the prosecution is heavily tainted by political bias, and that the former president is being treated badly out of spite for the political views and the positions he took during his presidency. Such retribution does not bode well for a young and fragile democracy, as Taiwan is.
The second issue that we feel we need to highlight is press freedom. In spite of earlier expressions of concern by international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, there continue to be reports of impingement on press freedom by your administration. A case in point is the recent disturbing report that Central News Agency staff were instructed to write only “positive” stories about the policies of your administration, and that reports containing criticism of your administration or China were excised.
Adams' also has a nifty piece over at Global Post on strikes at an Apple contract manufacturer, Wintek, in China and Taiwan:
The current labor action is unusual in that it's being taken on behalf of both Taiwanese and Chinese workers. It's supported by labor groups in Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and South Korea, according to a press release about Thursday's protest.Read and enjoy.
On Thursday morning, about 30 protesters from local labor rights groups and trade unions held signs and chanted slogans, including "black-heart business" (heixin qiye), in front of Apple's Taipei office.
One protester held up an Apple laptop with the Chinese characters for "responsibility" on the screen. Behind, some 25 police officers stood by.
Some 15 laid-off Wintek workers joined the protesters later. Many wore surgical masks to prevent being identified, because they still hope to be re-hired at the firm's central Taiwan factory.
"If the company finds out you came here to protest at Apple, they will put you on a blacklist," explained Liu Wan-ling, of the Taiwan Labor Information and Education Association.
[Taiwan] Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!