International observers decry Ma government refusal to grant medical parole to former President Chen

A number of individuals and foreign observers who have spoken out over the past several months to express their concerns over the failing health of Taiwan’s incarcerated former president, Chen Shui-bian, today strongly rebutted recent statements from Taiwanese government officials that Chen did not qualify for medical parole.

According to press reports, representatives of Taiwan’s foreign and justice ministries stated at a joint press conference in Taipei on Friday, November 16, 2012 that as a former president, “Chen Shui-bian has been provided the best living conditions and healthcare to the extent permissible by law and by the prison’s current facilities,” and that Chen “does not meet the conditions required for medical parole.”

Ma administration officials also characterized the repeated calls for medical parole for Chen by foreign officials and international organizations as resulting from a “misunderstanding” of the case.

Former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo, who saw the former President in Taipei on November 9 2012, categorically rejected the ministries’ claims that Chen’s health condition had improved, saying: "I hardly recognized President Chen when I met with him in the hospital. There is no 'misunderstanding' about it." Tancredo continued: "President Ma should resist the partisan demands of a few people on the fringe of his party, and grant President Chen medical parole. Taiwan's democracy should be above this kind of political score settling."

An American medical team that examined the former president in Taiwan in June called the government’s latest assertion regarding the adequacy of Chen’s treatment “a ludicrous exaggeration,” adding that “the limitations imposed on Chen in prison were in clear violation of the United Nations Minimum Standards for treatment of prisoners.” The team—which included Dr. Ken Yoneda and Dr. Charles Whitcomb, both professors of medicine at the University of California, Davis—reiterated their first-hand assessment that Chen’s “substandard and inhumane” imprisonment conditions were “a major contributing factor, if not the cause of his current physical and mental problems.”

The leader of the medical team, Joseph Lin, Ph.D., further indicated that the Ma administration’s “complete disregard and rejection of conclusions and recommendations of professional medical experts regarding the physical and mental condition of the former president” was “disturbing.” Dr. Lin pointed out: “To justify this gross miscarriage of justice and human rights, they had to be dismissive of conclusions reached by many, including former U.S. government officials, various international organizations and a member of the European Parliament.”

Mr. Hans van Baalen, leader of the Dutch Liberals in the European Parliament and President of Liberal International, also refuted the government’s contention that medical parole was not appropriate, emphasizing: “I visited former President Chen in Taipei, and I am convinced that he deserves better treatment. A medical parole is warranted, not only for the physical and mental health of President Chen himself, but also to help Taiwan on the path towards political reconciliation.” Van Baalen saw Chen in person during a trip to Taiwan in early November 2012.

Mark Kao, PhD, President of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, expressed his frustration with the Ma administration’s intransigence on this issue: “It is patently clear that there is now a broad consensus, both within Taiwan and overseas, about the need for medical parole for the former President Chen. It is inexcusable for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Justice Ministry to hide behind legalisms while blaming the press for the widespread criticism of the government’s handling of Chen’s health.”

Dr. Kao concluded: “As the Ma administration continues to drag its feet on doing the right thing and granting parole, the political divide in Taiwan will only continue to deepen, which will have a disastrous effect on Taiwan’s future as a free and democratic nation.”