Taiwan needs no trials by skit

Taiwan needs no trials by skit

Surely few citizens or legal workers are unfamiliar with the chilling films of ``show trials`` held in the 1930s in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia which were used by dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to liquidate dissidents or rivals and consolidate their totalitarian regimes.

Taiwan itself experienced similar show trials during the ostensibly anti-communist ``white terror`` from the late 1940s through the early 1990s under the externally imposed autocracy of the late Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) autocrat Chiang Kai-shek and his son Ching-kuo.

Surely most Taiwan citizens believed that such show trials were a matter of a distant ``tragic`` past and accepted the assurances given by KMT President Ma Ying-jeou last July 15, on the 21st anniversary of the lifting of martial law that ``human rights and the rule of law will be our standard.``

Who would have thought that the ``new`` KMT administration would turn out to be far more creative in ``using law to rule`` than the Chiang regime and invent a new procedure of ``holding the show before the trial`` or ``trial by skit``?

This new method of ``dispensing justice`` was launched January 9 in a commemoration of Law Day hosted by the Taipei District Prosecutors Office and Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng, who were joined, for the first time in eight years, by the Judicial Yuan President Lai Ying-chao and numerous judges as well as prosecutors and lawyers.

Instead of using the commemoration to spreading concerns in society over the retrogression in judicial rights or to re-examine the lack of progress in judicial reform, the event featured singing and skits, including the portrayal by prosecutors of a court hearing in which a defendant accused of a drug-related offence tried to delay the proceedings by claiming to ``have AIDS`` and threatened to ``die together with the judge.``

After the judge ordered the defendant to be placed under detention and handcuffed, she raised her handcuffed hands in protest and declared ``Judicial persecution! The court police are beating me up! I demand to have my injuries examined at National Taiwan University!``(For an English description see

The pro-KMT cable television TVBS that the target of the skit, which was received with peals of applause and laughter, was none other than ``former president Chen Shui-bian,`` who similarly raised his handcuffed hands in protest, charged police with having hit him and demanded a NTU medical examination when he was remanded to preventative incommunicado detention last November and is now awaiting trial in four cases of alleged corruption and money-laundering over which judges in the audience will deliver judgements in coming months.

We did not need former president Chen to tell us that shameful farce was ``unimaginable`` and nor required defence lawyer Cheng Wen-lung`s protest to realize that the right of his client to a fair trial has been irreparably damaged and probably did not exist in the first place.

Even more incredibly, Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng defended Wednesday, saying that ``it was just a play to help everybody relax`` and claiming that the prosecutors ``were reflecting public sentiment`` as in ``movies or Broadway plays.``

Prejudices exposed

Besides the fact that Wang seems never to have realized that the role of prosecutors is to find the truth and not to follow ``public sentiment`` or engage in popular witch hunts, she and the prosecutors involved have evidently forgotten that they are bound by the constitution and a code of ethics to remain impartial in the pursuit of truth and justice and to uphold the presumption of innocence and dignity of all Taiwan citizens.

Instead, she and the involved prosecutors have exposed to the world their prejudices and an unforgivable contempt for the human rights and dignity of disadvantaged members of our society.

Even more grave, the presence in the audience of judges has gravely blurred the critical social perception of the independence of court judgements.

If judges can publically laugh at a skit portraying a defendant in a current legal proceedings as both devious and unquestionably guilty, how can their future judgements on that very same defendant retain a shred of credibility?

For the justice system to be credible, all judicial officers must display in their actions in court and in upright conduct of their everyday lives that they are capable of upholding as well as dispensing justice.

The deliberate humiliation of president Chen and of ordinary citizens who are defendants in court or even HIV - positive comprise persuasive evidence that these individuals do not possess the will carry out impartial justice but instead aim to inflict political vengeance and point to grave systematic bias among judges and prosecutors alike.

In many democratic countries, this incident could be sufficient grounds to throw out the cases against the former president, but it would be naive to anticipate such a decision in this case.

Nevertheless, the absolute minimum action necessary to begin to restore the credibility of Taiwan`s justice system after this shameful event should be the resignation of Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng and the remanding of the prosecutors involved to a judicial disciplinary commission.

Updated : 2021-04-15 22:40 GMT+08:00