Taiwan president pressed to pardon tortured death row inmate

Supporters of Taiwan's longest-serving death row inmate say Tsai Ing-wen's silence is deafening

Rally for Chiou Ho-shun outside Presidential Office

Rally for Chiou Ho-shun outside Presidential Office (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Human rights advocates on Wednesday (April 7) demanded an explanation from President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for her refusal to comment on a petition to pardon Taiwan's longest-serving death row inmate, Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順), who was tortured into confessing to murder 33 years ago.

A brief march terminating outside the Presidential Office Building at 2 p.m. marked the anniversary of the petition, which was signed by 327 people from a variety of backgrounds, including members of 60 NGOs active in the country. To date, over 100,000 signatures worldwide have been collected.

Those present Wednesday included representatives of Amnesty International, the Judicial Reform Foundation (民間司法改革基金會), the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會), the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP, 台灣廢除死刑推動聯盟), and the Taiwan Innocence Project (冤獄平反協會). Demonstrators also held signs publicizing an exhibition presenting the story of Chiou's case: Haiwang Tianguang (海旺天光) - Chiou Ho-Shun's 32 Forgotten Years, which will open in Taichung Friday (April 9) and run through May 8.

In 1988, a suspect arrested in connection with the disappearance of a nine-year-old boy gave police the names of Chiou and 10 others, all of whom initially proclaimed their innocence. Within days, however, all had admitted to not only the boy's murder but also to the unsolved killing and dismemberment of a woman.

Taiwan president pressed to pardon tortured death row inmate
Legislator Freddy Lim is appealing to President Tsai Ing-wen to take up Chiou Ho-shun's pardon. (Taiwan News photo)

The police continued their interrogation of the suspects until they had secured no less than 288 confessions, which the court accepted as evidence, ultimately forming the basis for Chiou's death sentence the following year.

Chiou later recanted his confessions, which he said had been extracted after numerous, prolonged periods of torture. The sessions, some of which were recorded, included drownings, beatings, solitary confinement, and electrocution of the genitals.

This was acknowledged in court in the 1994 conviction of two officers involved in the abuse. To this day, no physical evidence has been submitted to connect the accused with the murders.

President Tsai's continued silence is deafening, Chiou's supporters said Wednesday. Independent Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) remarked, "These past several years, Taiwanese are all very proud of the progress made on human rights, but I believe Chiou Ho-shun's case is Taiwan's greatest stain."

TAEDP Executive Director Lin Hsin-yi (林欣怡) told Taiwan News: "It's a political issue. It's very difficult for the president to make a decision — we know that. But at least, she needs to give us a response because this is her duty." She said while Tsai often talks about listening to others, she has not once mentioned Chiou's case to his allies since they filed the petition.

"So this is what we want: to at least tell us why she cannot make a decision. Tell us why. What cannot convince her... We have a lot of evidence, but we don't know she's read the case, understands the case, or thinks about the case," she said, adding that they had tried numerous approaches to no avail — international, judicial, and social.

Asked if he is aware of pressure within Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party to pardon Chiou, Chiou's attorney Yu Po-hsiang (尤伯祥) said that because of Tsai's clout in the party, such a push will not come from within. "I believe for her to make such a decision, the important thing is whether she can receive applause for doing so," he stated.

Taiwan president pressed to pardon tortured death row inmate
(Taiwan News photo)

Whether or not Tsai responds, she is Chiou's last hope, as he exhausted the last of his appeals in 2011. In addition, the 61-year-old is now being treated for heart trouble, according to sources familiar with the matter, and supporters fear this could spell the end for him even before he is put to death, which in Taiwan could happen at any time.

The Presidential Office has not yet responded to Taiwan News' request for comment.

The Asian Human Rights Court Simulation (AHRCS) in 2019 organized a mock trial for Chiou, with judges, lawyers, and other legal experts from around the continent coming to participate. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the AHRCS ruled that Chiou "has been and remains a victim of the violation of his [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] rights" and determined that Taiwan had violated Articles 7 and 14 of this treaty.

Taiwan ratified the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in 2009.

Thomas Wang, the U.S.-trained criminal defense attorney who represented Chiou in the simulation, told Taiwan News last year that he does believe any judge involved in Chiou's initial trial and subsequent appeals views the forced confessions the sentence hinges on as valid.

The country's judicial system has simply chosen to save face over saving an innocent life, Wang believes. "We all have our own internal biases, and in this case, to me, the biases got the better of good judgment: inconsistencies, torture, and just fundamentally flawed police investigation."

Taiwan president pressed to pardon tortured death row inmate
Allies of Chiou assembled outside Presidential Office Building. (Taiwan News photo)

Updated : 2021-04-12 22:13 GMT+08:00