Ma fails to support Wang on the abolition of death penalty

Ministry of Justice had formed a committee, which will hold the first meeting to review the abolition issue on March 23

Wang speaks to reporters yesterday.

Wang speaks to reporters yesterday.

Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng should adhere to the law on capital punishment and wait for legal amendments reducing the number of executions, the Presidential Office said yesterday in comments interpreted as a rebuke. The presidential comments echoed the barrage of criticism over her refusal to approve the execution of any of the country's 44 death row convicts. The most recent execution took place in 2005.
In a statement Tuesday, she said she'd rather resign than have even one of the prisoners executed. Her views clashed with comments by her deputy, Huang Shih-ming, who has been facing questioning by lawmakers in the run-up to a vote on his appointment as state prosecutor-general by President Ma Ying-jeou.
Presidential spokesman Lo Chih-chiang read a statement emphasizing the rule of law, implying Wang could not refuse to sign orders to execute convicts already sentenced to death. Lawmakers have accused Wang of breaking the law by delaying executions. Lo said that because there was no consensus in the country, there could not be a decision at present to do away with capital punishment.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced in the evening that it had formed a committee to review the abolition of the death penalty. The group would meet for the first time on March 23, said Justice Vice Minister Wu Chen-huan.
The comments by the Presidential Office followed calls for Wang's immediate resignation or dismissal by lawmakers and by relatives of murder victims.
At a news conference yesterday morning, they accused the minister of being unfit to serve. Entertainer Pai Ping-ping called on citizens to use their vote in the year-end elections to protest against Wang. The kidnapping and murder of her teenage daughter Pai Hsiao-yen in 1997 was one of Taiwan's highest profile crimes. The man found guilty was later executed.
The father of a murdered boy told the news conference the government might use the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China next year to issue a general amnesty covering all death row prisoners.
Human rights and religious groups expressed their support for Wang. If it is wrong for people to kill other people, how can it be right for the government to kill people, activists said. They pointed out that a majority of nations in the world had abolished capital punishment, and called on Taiwan to follow suit.
"Respect for the law cannot be built on the executioner's platform," said a banner at the human rights groups' news conference.
Wang stood her ground, saying the case would become an international laughing stock if she was forced to resign for her opposition to capital punishment. Wang has defended her stance by saying capital punishment went against the right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Cabinet spokesman Johnny Chiang said Wang's personal opinion would be respected. The government would discuss all options but not take a decision until a consensus had been reached, he said.
An opinion poll in yesterday's edition of the Chinese-language United Daily News showed 74 percent opposed to the abolition and 42 percent in favor of Wang's resignation. The poll conducted Wednesday had 792 valid responses and a margin of error of 3.5 percent, the paper said.
The comments from the Presidential Office touched off speculation that Wang would announce her resignation. If so, the justice minister would become the second Cabinet member in a week to leave, after Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang tendered his surprise resignation Monday over differences on how to save the troubled national health insurance system. President Ma and Premier Wu Den-yih still want him to stay.