Open letter to President Ma
Dear President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九),
We the undersigned, international academics, analysts and writers from the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, have for many years been keen observers of political developments in Taiwan. We were delighted when Taiwan made its transition to democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we continue to care deeply for the country and its future as a free and democratic nation-state.
However, during the past three years, many of us have felt it necessary to address publicly our concerns to you about the erosion of justice and democracy in Taiwan, most recently in April this year regarding the charges of the “36,000 missing documents” against a number of prominent former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials. We raised these issues as international supporters of Taiwan’s democracy.
At this time we express our deep concern about the charges against former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), often referred to as “the father of Taiwan’s democracy,” who was indicted on June 30 on charges of allegedly channeling US$7.8 million from secret diplomatic funds into the Taiwan Research Institute. These charges and their timing raise a number of questions that are related both to the case itself and the integrity of the judicial system in Taiwan.
First, why did the prosecutors decide to pursue these charges at this time? The events allegedly occurred in the years 1994 and 1995, about 16 years ago. We have difficulty believing that prosecutors discovered evidence only recently, particularly in view of the fact that key evidence cited by the prosecutors was dismissed by a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 in a case involving former National Security Bureau chief accountant Hsu Ping-chiang (徐炳強), who was charged in connection with the missing diplomatic funds. Are these charges perhaps more directly related to the former president’s outspokenness on current political issues, and in particular to the upcoming presidential election?
The second issue is one of evenhandedness: The problem with the administration of secret diplomatic funds appears to be systemic, primarily because of the lack of transparency associated with the funds and vague guidelines for their use. Hence, if the former president is now charged, should fairness not demand that there be investigations, and charges, against other high officials who served at the same time, such as the vice president, premier and provincial governor, who had similar discretionary funds available to them?
The third issue relates to the impartiality of the judicial system. Since November 2008, there have been a number of indictments and charges against former DPP officials and others who were and are critical of your government. The case against Lee appears to be part of a deeply disturbing trend to use the judiciary against political opponents. While there is an obvious need to uphold the law in a democracy, this needs to be done fairly and evenhandedly, with no hint or appearance of any partiality.
Mr President, as head of state you bear overall responsibility for the state of affairs in Taiwan. In democratic systems, proper checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches are of the utmost importance. The executive and the legislative branches have a responsibility to exercise oversight and to balance activism in the judiciary, just as the judiciary serves a similar role with regard to the executive and legislative branches. Stating that your government abides by “judicial independence” is therefore not enough. It is essential that all participants in the judicial process — prosecutors, judges and lawyers — are fully imbued with the basic principle that the judiciary is scrupulously impartial and not given to any partisan preferences.
We, as members of the international academic community, are left with the impression that the indictments and practices of the judiciary in Taiwan over the past three years reflect a judicial system that is increasingly influenced by political considerations. There has been a regression in the accomplishments of Taiwan’s momentous democratization of the 1990s and 2000s. As good friends of Taiwan, we are deeply unsettled by this. It undermines Taiwan’s international image as a free and democratic nation.
Mr President, we therefore urge you and your government to ensure that the judicial system is held to the highest standards of objectivity and fairness. Taiwan has many challenges ahead of it and it cannot afford the political divisions created by the use of the judicial system for political purposes.
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