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A long-overdue medical parole for Chen Shui-bian

A long-overdue medical parole for Chen Shui-bian

734 days after he was first locked behind bars, former President Chen Shui-bian was finally granted a medical parole by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) Monday and has returned to his family home in Greater Kaohsiung. Chen’s one-month parole, which will not count against prison time, allows him to receive medical attention in the comfort of his own home. Taichung Prison, where Chen has been held for most of the past six-plus years, will send personnel to check on his condition, and if he shows signs of improvement he could be returned to Taichung when the month is up. If, on the other hand, there is no change or a worsening in his condition, MOJ officials could further extend the parole for one to three months as needed.

The medical parole has been a long time coming. Chen was first arraigned shortly after leaving office in 2008, charged with misuse of public funds, involvement in a controversial land deal in Longtan and allegations of money-laundering. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2008 at the age of 60, but appealed for and got a second trial.

The second time around, he was convicted in November 2010 and officially entered prison November 11, 2010, on a stiff 20-year sentence. When he finally began serving time he had already been held in confinement for more than two years as prosecutors collected evidence and trials were underway. Now, after more than six years in custody in detention centers and prisons, he is back with his family in Kaohsiung.
Chen began suffering medical problems almost as soon as he was locked up in Taipei Prison. On the advice of lawyers, family and friends he sought outside medical advice and was examined by a specially-convened team of physicians who directed him to various hospitals for evaluation and treatment. He was eventually transferred from Taipei to Taichung Prison, which has an attached hospital with better medical facilities.

Meanwhile family and supporters continued to press for outside medical attention for the former president, but it was not until June 10 last year that he was finally examined by doctors at Taichung Veterans General Hospital.

An application was filed on May 15 last year for a medical parole so Chen could receive longer attention and care outside the prison environment. That particular application was dismissed by the Agency of Corrections in October.

DPP Mayor of Chiayi City Tu Hsing-che is a former director of the Department of Health and was also once a member of the Presidential Medical Team. Tu said Monday that keeping former President Chen behind bars for such an extended time is inhumane and not the kind of behavior a civilized nation should exhibit. It is inexcusable that a former head of state is reduced to life in a small prison cell where he eats sitting on the floor and has to lie down in order to write, said Tu. While in prison his every action including bladder and bowel movements was monitored, a source of pressure and humiliation that can only grate constantly on his sense of self and well-being.

Tu noted that Chiang Kai-shek, who was not particularly known for compassion, punished political rival Chang Hsueh-liang with nothing more serious than house arrest. Similarly, Chiang placed dissident Peng Ming-min under house arrest for his political activities, while even Myanmar’s repressive regime bottled gadfly Aung San Suu-Kyi under house arrest to limit her interaction with opposition forces.

On the other hand in Taiwan, which prides itself on being a democratic nation, we see the phenomenon of a former head of state locked behind bars and kept out of sight until he has become physically and mentally ill. Such treatment is a slap in the face of both Chen and his supporters, and it is not how a true democracy should treat a former leader.

Tu pointed out that even after the latest specially-convened medical group released its evaluation of Chen’s condition with the recommendation he be granted a medical parole, the Ma government still attempted to add its own particular fillip to years of dawdling and delay. Officials claimed highway traffic jams held up delivery of the paperwork needed to obtain Chen’s release, drawing an acerbic comment from Tu that the only thing he could say about the administration’s performance is that "staging a fake traffic accident might have been even better." Such behavior, said Tu, is not becoming of a bona fide government.

Chen has served more than six years of his prison sentence, but according to law he will not be eligible for parole until he has spent ten years behind bars. Meanwhile the Ma government has been cavalier throughout in its attitude toward Chen and the treatment accorded him ever since he was arrested. Many critics of the KMT and its actions have termed the charges raised against Chen ‘trumped up,’ and indeed a large part of the cases against him argued that he was “in a position to influence” others involved in certain controversies.

Another point worth noting is that KMT officials who have engaged in the same kind of behavior in the past have not been held accountable, indicating a double standard regarding which political actions are legal or tolerated and which ones are not. Either way, the Ma administration’s moves against Chen have had one intended effect. The DPP nearly foundered after he was taken into custody in 2008, righting itself only after Tsai Ing-wen took the helm as chair following the 2012 presidential elections.

The list of people who contributed to the effort for Chen’s medical parole is long and includes family and friends, supporters inside and outside Taiwan, and even voters who cast ballots for non-KMT candidates in November’s 9-in-1 elections. The KMT’s abysmal showing in that outing led to Ma Ying-jeou’s decision to step down as party chairman and probably provided the final impetus for granting Chen’s medical parole.

Be that as it may, the parole is a reality and Chen Shui-bian is now back with his family. Hopefully he will have a chance to relax and take care of himself in the security of a home environment. That is the least the government can do for a former popularly-elected head of state in a democracy which is still finding its way.

Updated : 2021-09-22 08:36 GMT+08:00