Taipei murder must not tarnish Taiwan’s safe reputation

The murder of an English teacher and small-time drug dealer in Taipei is shocking but does not reflect Taiwan as a whole


KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- The brutal murder of Canadian English teacher Ramgahan Sanjay Ryan (顏柏萊) has shaken the whole of Taiwan, and understandably so.

Despite the recent severe weather, the story has remained in the Mandarin language news for almost a week. But it is the expat community which has undoubtedly been hit hardest. The interest in stories about the murder on the Taiwan News website is a testament to how much it has shaken the English-speaking community here.

Taipei’s expat community is not an especially large one but is fairly close-knit. Many people may well have connections to Ryan and even either Ewart Odane Bent or Oren Shlomo Mayer, who are suspected of carrying out his murder.

But interest will have been piqued not just by personal connections, but by the fact that crime in Taiwan is such a rare occurrence. And as Taiwan begins to digest what has happened in this case, and the perpetrators are brought to justice, this is a point that serves reemphasizing.

Crime in Taiwan is rare

Taiwan is one of the safest countries in the world. It frequently appears towards the top of lists of the world’s safest countries and just last year, Taipei was ranked as the third-safest city in the world.

What crime does take place here is mostly organized crime perpetrated by triad groups and gangs, with victims often coming from that same criminal fraternity. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to suggest that if these crimes were taken out of the statistics, Taiwan may well be pushing the likes of Singapore, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries in Europe, for the top spot in these rankings.

But while the statistics may be clear, it is somewhat concerning that incidents like the Ryan murder could lead people to form the view that Taiwan is not that safe. The fact that the murder is making some headlines outside Taiwan too only increases the likelihood of this.

If people outside Taiwan were to run a brief search for crime in Taiwan, it is likely to throw up other recent high-profile crimes such as the knife attack on the Taipei MRT in 2014 or the shocking beheading of a 4-year old girl in a random attack in 2016.

The tendency of Taiwanese people to install bars on windows and doors in their homes can also give the impression of a country living in fear of crime.

But this is emphatically not the case. Crime is not a big social problem in Taiwan. Isolated cases, like the ones mentioned above, do happen. But that is true of everywhere, and in Taiwan, they are very exceptional, one-off cases. What is arguably more of a problem is the fear of crime, which is much higher than it should and is fanned by local media hysteria and the social media craze. Crimes that do happen are taken out of all perspective and the result is a country which perceives itself as being far less safe that it is.

Statistics appear to support the fact that in Taiwan, fear of crime is high, while actual crime remains low. For example, recent data shows that although crime levels in the U.S. are four-times higher than in Taiwan, fear of crime in Taiwan (with the exception of violent crime thanks to the USA’s ongoing gun crime crisis) is consistently higher.

Many ex-pats may well have experienced crime in their home country. Most have not in Taiwan. And while that does not mean people should become complacent, it should illustrate that they should not let an incident like the Ryan murder tarnish their views of Taiwan. That is true of other overseas citizens thinking of visiting Taiwan.

A drug dealers dispute

The details of what happened to Ryan remain unclear and are certainly yet to have been tested in court. But from what information is available, it appears that his murder was the result of a dispute between rival drug dealers.

For regular ex-pats who are not involved in taking drugs, this should come as something of a relief. Such crimes are almost unheard of in Taiwan, and fortunately, that remains the case.

Crime in Taiwan regularly involves gangs and organized groups and that is what appears to have been the case here too. The murder of Ryan was the result of a dispute between two rival drug dealers.

Of course, that does not make his murder any less shocking or tragic. But it does mean that expats in Taiwan can sleep a little easier in their beds.

And it should also mean that people planning to visit or work in Taiwan should not be deterred from doing so. Taiwan’s reputation as one of the safest countries in the world should remain intact despite this grisly killing.