China Regional Action Network – September 2008
Taiwan: Moratorium on the Death penalty
No executions have been carried out in Taiwan for the last two-and-a-half years (the last execution took place on 12/26/2005) but five people were sentenced to death in 2007 joining around 70-100 prisoners on death row. Most are still under appeal, but some 29 prisoners have had their sentences finalized. In response to campaigning, former President Chen Shui-bian publicly opposed the death penalty, but emphasized the need for a gradual approach to abolition in order to forge a national consensus. The newly elected administration under President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in March 2008. The new Minister of Justice, Wang Jing-feng, has personally declared her opposition to the death penalty. However, the administration’s formal policy remains unclear, with senior officials frequently referring to public opinion to defend retention of the death penalty.
- Chong De-shu, whose execution order was signed at the end of 2006, remains under sentence of death. (For further information, see AI urgent action UA 328/06, 6 December 2006, ASA 38/002/2006); and
- Chang Pao-hui tried to commit suicide at Hualien prison in March by swallowing 13 batteries, apparently because he was unable to bear the stress of waiting for his execution.
On May 21, 2008, Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng said she would take steps to amend existing law to eventually abolish the death penalty to bring the island into line with the international trend. Surveys have shown that 76% of people in Taiwan oppose abolition, but that this reduces considerably to around 50% as long as those who commit serious crimes are jailed for life.
In apparent steps towards abolition, the Ministry of Justice recently proposed three legislative reforms to the death penalty system aimed at reducing the number of death sentences and safeguarding the right to fair trial to:
- Make death sentences dependent on a unanimous verdict among the five judges who hear a case, rather than a majority verdict;
- Ensure that Supreme Court judges look into the facts of a case by meeting and discussing it with a defendant’s lawyers rather than merely conducting a paper review of the documents; and
- Ensure that death penalty defendants are granted a stay of execution if they file a petition for a retrial, extraordinary appeal or request an interpretation by the Supreme Court.
However, in May 2008, the Judicial Yuan (highest judicial organ in Taiwan), which has authority over court administration said it did not support the three proposals.
As former Minister of Justice, President Ma Ying-jeou refused to sign three execution orders because he believed there had been flaws in the prosecution process. In a meeting with representatives of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty in June 2008, he indicated support for moves towards abolition but suggested this would take time as public opinion continues to support the death penalty. He made no firm commitments to declare a formal moratorium on executions, but said that his Minister of Justice would not sign any execution orders as she was personally opposed to the death penalty.
The death penalty remains applicable to some 52 crimes in the Taiwanese criminal code, including non-violent crimes, such as drug related offenses and some economic crimes.
Taiwan was the first government after the United States to legislate lethal injection as a form of execution. This was seen by the Taiwan authorities as a more ‘humane’ way to execute prisoners. To date, it has never been used and shooting remains the sole form of execution in practice.
Executions usually take place at dawn and are carried out by prison guards who position the prisoner on the ground, face down, and shoot him directly in the heart. Other parts on the body may be chosen if the prisoner is an organ donor. Three or more armed guards usually carry out an execution. This is witnessed by 10-20 officials, including officers of the detention center, the prosecutor and any religious counsel. Families and lawyers are not informed in advance of an execution.
Between 1994 and 2005, Taiwan executed 198 people but executions progressively decreased between 1998 and 2004. Three prisoners were executed in 2004, and again in 2005, but no executions were carried out in 2006 and 2007.
Please write polite, encouraging letters to the President and Judicial Yuan, copied to the Minister of Justice in Chinese, English or your own language:
- Welcoming the fact that no one has been executed in Taiwan since 2005 and calling on the authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty as provided by UN General Assembly resolution 62/149;
- Urging the authorities to commute the sentences of all those held on death row;
- Pending abolition, urging the authorities to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death, particularly by eliminating non-violent crimes such as drug-related offenses from the scope of the death penalty;
- Calling on the authorities to take a stronger lead to educate the public in Taiwan on the reality of the death penalty from a human rights perspective, including that it is not a greater deterrent to crime than other punishments such as life imprisonment;
- Urging the authorities to ensure that crime victims are given concrete and appropriate support, including compensation for their loss or injuries.
A sample letter is available in MS Word.
President Ma Ying-jeou
Office of the President
No. 122, Sec. 1, Chongcing S Road
Fax: 011 886 2 2383 2941
Salutation: Your Excellency
President Wang Jin-pyng
1 Jhongshan S Road
Fax: 011 886 2 2395 5317
President Lai In-jaw
124 Chungking S. Road, Sec. 1
Fax: 011 886 2 2389 8923
Salutation: Dear President
Ms Wang Ching-feng
Minister of Justice
130 Chungking S. Road, Sec 1.
FAX: 011 886 2 2375 2153
Salutation: Dear Minister
Mr. Francisco H. L. Ou
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2 Kaitakelan Blvd.
FAX: 011 886 2 23482880
Salutation: Dear Minister
Postage for letters to Taiwan is 94 cents.