Secret files need to be unsealed to reveal the truth about Taiwan's history

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(By Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Commentator Yang Sen-hong wrote that failing to unlock the secret files from the Martial Law era would be a serious collective crime on the part of the government, calling on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration not to let itself be hamstrung by conservative forces.

Between July 2018 and April of this year, the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB) decided to extend the period of confidentiality for 1,941 files by 30 years, meaning that some of them could only be opened up in 2048 at the latest. In addition, the National Security Bureau (NSB) is planning to declare 142 political files, including those covering the murders of Lin Yi-hsiung’s family and of Professor Chen Wen-chen, confidential forever, never to be opened. In total, there are 19,725 cases from 1945 to 1992. Originally, the MJIB was to have released 30,515 files this year. However, at present we already know 242 files will be kept confidential until 2043 and 1,699 until 2048, which means that some documents will not see the light of day for more than 100 years after the event. In the United States, even the files concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will be unsealed 70 years after the facts.

Yang wondered whether there was a secret organization more powerful than the president trying to cover up Taiwan’s past. The actions of the MJIB and of the NSB are clearly unconstitutional and illegal, and amount to a kind of collective criminal action, Yang said. He expressed indignation at the fact that this had happened under the administration of a DPP president who had once promised to promote judicial reform. The files should have been unsealed a long time ago and handed to the Transitional Justice Commission, which itself did not protest against the recent MJIB and NSB decisions, he noted.

The Transitional Justice Commission said it had talked with the NSB but had failed to persuade it to give up the information, while legislators wondered why all the secrecy. If keeping the files confidential only served to cover up harming civilians, then it amounted to a blatant violation of official secret document laws, said New Power Party lawmaker Freddy Lim.

After media publicized the plans on May 21, the MJIB defended its methods and said cooperation with other departments had been fruitful. Strangely, in the more than one month that has passed since, no former presidential or Cabinet official or present legislator has asked the responsible agencies to present a report on the issue. Now that the DPP primaries are over, the president and the relevant government departments should at least act.

The transparency and the unsealing of secret files, including the political files from the Martial Law era, are key to transitional justice and to the introduction of a rule of law based on human rights. We call on all candidates in the January 11, 2020 presidential elections to take a stand on this issue. Whoever is elected president, should immediately use the prerogatives of the office to declare the files open.