Thursday, November 13, 2008

International Criticism on its Way?

Lots of communication from friends and acquaintances asking how we can get more international pressure on the local political situation. It's coming folks, slowly, as awareness dawns. Please write to your local newspaper, your local Congressman, your local Amnesty International Chapter, and tell them your concerns. Nothing will be done until people know there is a problem.

UPDATE 2: According to the Taipei Times, AIT Director Steve Young commented on the Chen Shui-bian case, asking for a "transparent, fair, and impartial" resolution to it. He said he also expected that the Ma Administration would have further dialogue with the DPP. More, please, Mr. Young. Dutch politicians have also expressed their concerns.

Meanwhile some commentary in the media is appearing. Today in the South China Post Jerome Cohen of the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Establishment elite think tank, has an article in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) out of Hong Kong. Cohen was current Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou's mentor in law school. Here is the article:

Ties that blind
Improved cross-strait relations appear to have come at a cost to some civil liberties in Taiwan
Jerome Cohen
Nov 13, 2008


After police in Tainan failed to prevent an assault on Mr Chen's deputy, president Ma Ying-jeou's government was obligated to do better during Mr Chen's visit. Although police could not prevent Mr Chen from being trapped in a hotel for eight hours by a huge mob of protesters, they did defend him against bodily harm throughout a stressful week.

In doing so, they went beyond the limits of a free society, forbidding peaceful protesters from displaying Taiwanese and Tibetan flags, confiscating flags from demonstrators, closing a store that played Taiwanese songs and seeking to minimise the visitors' awareness of the protests. There were also incidents of police brutality, albeit sometimes in response to violent provocations by demonstrators.

The police misconduct even outraged many local supporters of Mr Chen's visit. Mr Ma, in addition to implementing his campaign pledge to sponsor revision of the Assembly and Parade Law to eliminate protesters' need for advance official permission, should recommend amendments prohibiting the kind of undemocratic police practices that recently occurred and order training designed to enhance police compliance with the law. It is encouraging to note that Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, who led the massive opposition demonstration, has subsequently called not only for a government review of police misconduct but also for a re-examination by her own party of its failures to maintain order among its demonstrators. The DPP, if it is to fulfil its essential role as democratic opposition, must not degenerate into an army of street fighters.

Some Taiwanese and foreign critics took the occasion of Mr Chen's visit to call attention to another crucial feature of democratic government - the fair prosecution of current and former officials suspected of corruption. The critics voiced three serious complaints about recent arrests and incommunicado detentions of prominent DPP figures who have served as government officials. They imply that the DPP is being singled out for prosecutions while corruption among Kuomintang leaders is being ignored. They also claim that: most DPP suspects have been held incommunicado without a court examination of the justification for their detentions; and that prosecutors' offices have been leaking detrimental information about the suspects to the media while denying them knowledge of the leaks and a chance to refute the "trial by press".

These practices, it is said, bring into question the political neutrality of the judiciary, and the presumption of innocence and other elements of due process required for the fair and open trials essential to democracy, raising the spectre of the unjust procedures of "the dark days of martial law" (1947-1987). It is not clear whether critics' claims of "selective prosecution" are well founded. Recent arrests may simply reflect massive corruption by the DPP, which dominated executive government for the past eight years - corruption that allegedly reached as high as former president Chen Shui-bian and his family.

Oddly, although during the Chen administration some prosecutions were brought against both DPP and KMT figures, some obvious KMT targets were overlooked despite reportedly thick dossiers compiled by Control Yuan investigators. Mr Ma should appoint a commission of impartial experts to review such prosecutions.

It does not appear that any of the recently detained DPP figures were denied a court hearing or their right to counsel. Moreover, there is a legislative basis for the courts' decisions to detain them incommunicado for up to four months of investigation if there is a reasonable basis for believing that the suspects might otherwise falsify evidence. Yet, in view of the harshness of this pre-indictment sanction and the obstacles it creates to mounting an adequate defence, it ought to be invoked rarely.

Certainly, the Legislative Yuan, or the commission suggested here, should re-examine legislation to strike a new balance between the threat of corruption to a democratic government and the threat of incommunicado detention to civil liberty.

The charge of biased prosecution leaks to the press seems to be the most straightforward of the critics' complaints. Such leaks, which occur in many countries, do appear to have taken place and cannot be allowed in a democratic system.

Jerome A. Cohen is co-director of NYU's US-Asia Law Institute and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
I have to wonder what Cohen and his fellows among the US Establishment imagined they were doing when they supported Ma Ying-jeou for President. There's a simple formula: the closer Taiwan gets to China, the more civil liberties here will have to be suppressed. When Taiwan is China, as during the martial law era, civil liberties are completely suppressed. Still, criticism of any kind, however lukewarm, is welcome, and definitely preferable to silence.

Cohen's piece is highly apologetic and defensive, possibly because Cohen strongly supported Ma and the KMT in the 2008 Presidential election and now bears, in some ghostly way, at least a moral responsibility for what is happening ("It is not clear whether critics' claims of "selective prosecution" are well founded. Recent arrests may simply reflect massive corruption by the DPP, which dominated executive government for the past eight years - corruption that allegedly reached as high as former president Chen Shui-bian and his family.") ROFL. Detainee Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Commissioner, has no connection to Chen and is an elected official doing her job. It's very clear what's going on -- but at least the international media is starting to wake up to the issue. More articles please!

UPDATE 1: I've decided to keep expanding this post as new commentary rolls in, so it is going to get loooooong. This from the National Review blog...

Things look bad in Taiwan. Former president (2000-2008) Chen Shui-bian has been arrested on corruption charges by the government of his successor (since May this year), Ma Ying-jeou. Chen was pro-autonomy; Ma is much keener on "cross-strait relations." Chen's arrest comes after some ugly scenes last week during a visit to the island by a ChiCom flunky, in aid of further "improving cross-strait relations." There were public protests, dealt with very brutally by the police.

On the corruption charges: I wouldn't be surprised, though the administration has acted very high-handedly in making evidence known, and in its treatment of Chen. He was for example manacled, quite unnecessarily. (See this editorial from today's Taipei Times.) But then, "un-corrupt Taiwan politician" is pretty much an oxymoron, and I doubt Ma's affairs would bear very close scrutiny. His party is the KMT, after all — the party, that is, of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, know in his time to American newspapermen as "General Cash My Check." What's going on here is the criminalization of politics; and if the ChiComs don't have a hand in it somewhere, then their Intelligence and Covert Ops people are not doing what their employers pay them to do.


skiingkow said...

I absolutely agree that there needs to be international pressure on this.

I have been somewhat disappointed, however (as I've mentioned elswhere) of the lack of leadership from the student protesters. They don't seem to be extending communication channels to the western media. They also are not being pro-active enough IMO.

For example, when an 80 year old man lit himself on fire the other day, it was basically ignored by the students except for a statement on their website. Immediately after that very tragic incident happened, there should have been spokespeople from this protest holding a press conference about this explaining the situation fully.

The students cannot wait for the media to come to them. They have to get in front of the media themselves. Hold regular press conferences. Have an English spokesperson commit to regular summaries of the days events (as a reporter) and use the internet technology to full international effect.

I noticed that the number of viewers has sharply tapered off from a few days ago with the live broadcast on Yahoo. A lot of international viewers that were watching are now no longer doing so.

I know it's a learning experience for them, but they have got to learn quickly with the likes of the KMT and pro-blue media. They cannot afford to be shy.

David said...

One of the most important things we can do as foreign residents of Taiwan is document and report on things that are happening.

The ready availabity of digital recording devices and the internet changes the equation to what was going on in the 1980s.

Anonymous said...

What are we going to do to show Obama's guys what's going on here?

David said...

stop ma, it took a few days for things to get organised but the yesterday there was a press conference. They are planning to bring more people together in Taipei on the weekend to discuss future plans. They are also working on getting things translated, but it takes time. If the international media aren't reporting it, it is not necessarily because of a lack of effort by the students. Taipei Times and Taiwan News have provided good coverage in English.

I do understand your point about leadership. However, so far the students have stuck to making decisions as a group rather than letting individuals take greater control.

Anonymous said...

An advice to the students,
The general public is not interested in the cheap publicity generated, without clear objective. Now go back to school before you are being kicked out."

Tim Maddog said...

Jerome Cohen was Ma's teacher at Harvard. He's the one who called Ma an "international lawyer" (even though Ma isn't a lawyer at all).

The page behind that link has links to a large video (The WMV version is about 105 MB, and the MP4 is 180 MB) of an "interview" of Ma by Cohen which looks very scripted but poorly rehearsed.

Here's the transcript of that (in case you don't want to download a big video file -- but it's worth watching), in which you can see Cohen smearing Chen Shui-bian several times in just the intro.

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

Throughout, words of Cohen’s piece were very carefully chosen, still very defensive of Ma’s administration, but Cohen’s moral responsibility prompts him to write. Don’t know if his former student Ma heard him?

Raj said...

A large number of newspapers are reporting on Chen's hunger strike along with allegations of political bias. The Standard (HK) ran an article on the hunger strikes of other detainees.

It's not direct criticism, but it does draw attention to the issue.