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KMT rights rollback cannot be whitewashed

KMT rights rollback cannot be whitewashed

A flood of international criticism by global human rights organizations, democratic governments and prominent legal scholars and academics in the China and Taiwan fields has evidently touched a sore nerve in the restored rightist Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government of President Ma Ying-jeou.

After over a decade of being seen as a model of democratic transition from four decades of KMT martial law rule and a lighthouse for human rights and civic freedoms in East Asia under former Taiwan-born president Lee Teng-hui and ex-president Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party administration, Taiwan has again become a prominent human rights issue after only six months of restored KMT governance.

The sensitivity of the KMT government to global concern and its inability to respond sincerely to international and domestic criticism were displayed by the response issued Tuesday under Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng to over 20 prominent scholars who published an "Open Letter on Erosion of Justice in Taiwan" earlier this month in the wake of a series of unwarranted detentions of serving and former DPP officials, such as DPP Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen, and other state violations of civic freedoms and human rights.

Wang's response utilized the prime technique used by the KMT during its martial law period and by the People's Republic of China today in reacting to human rights criticism, namely denial.

For example, the justice minister attempted to whitewash the dark past of Taiwan judicial history by trying to rebut concerns that the KMT government may be using the judicial system "to get even with members of the DPP government" as "groundless" since such a claims would create "the misimpression (sic) that Taiwan's judicial system is susceptible to political manipulation, which quite simply is untrue."

In fact, the KMT martial law regime unabashedly utilized as an instrument of repression from the late 1940s through the early 1990s and during which time its spokespersons claimed that there were "no political prisoners."

Only gradually and by no means fully has the Taiwan judiciary been weaned from its past role as a tool for the use of law as a means of authoritarian rule into a defender of the impartial rule by law through the democratizing reforms under former president Lee Teng-hui and the DPP administration.

However, their efforts to modernize the judiciary and promote its independence were stymied by pro-KMT vested interests and by the KMT legislative majority, which refused to approve major revisions to the Judicial Yuan Organization Law and rejected Chen's first nomination for supreme public prosecutor precisely because former deputy justice minister Hsieh Wen-ting voiced his intent resist pressure from all parties.

With this foundation, all the KMT government needs to do to "interfere" in the judicial process is to set standards. Ma himself set the stage for an "open season" on the former president and DPP officials in August in Santo Domingo by making an inaccurate comparison of Chen with the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, while Wang herself inappropriately discussed the Chen case on pro-KMT talk shows even before the former president was listed as a defendant.

The promotion of numerous Taipei City police district chiefs in the wake of the grossly excessive use of police during the visit of PRC envoy Chen Yunlin earlier this month also sends a ringing signal that the KMT government priorities "order" above the protection of the constitutional rights of our citizens.

Similarly, while Wang correctly noted that the Code of Criminal Procedures gives prosecutors do have a legal power of asking for investigative detention, she neglected to respond to widespread charges in even pro-KMT domestic media that this power is being grossly abused.

As noted in an editorial in the vernacular China Times Wednesday, "if those who cooperate with investigations are released on bail and those who do not cooperate are placed under incommunicado detention, is that not enough to make clear whether they are being detained to extract confessions?"

The KMT government's aim to pull wool over the eyes of foreign and domestic audiences was also exposed in claims that "the U.S. government has expressed its full confidence" in Taiwan's judicial system.

Actually, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack on Nov. 18 stated that the legal process involving former president Chen "is a matter for Taiwan's legal system to resolve. We are confident in Taiwan's democracy and its legal system, and we have every expectation that the process will be transparent, fair, and impartial."

The most important word used by the U.S. State Department spokesman is "expectation," a term is by no means an endorsement but a diplomatic signal not to stray one inch from the standards of being "transparent, fair and impartial."

In sum, President Ma, Wang and other KMT government leaders may not appreciate that the world community has higher "expectations" for the Taiwan government precisely because it is supposed to be a democracy and may not welcome any moves by the KMT government that threaten to extinguish the lamp in Taiwan's democratic lighthouse and retard hopes to promote democracy and human rights in China and the rest of Asia.

Updated : 2021-09-19 18:01 GMT+08:00