Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, head of the Justice Department under President Lyndon Johnson, traveled to Taiwan for two days to visit Chen Shui-bian in prison. Chen, former President of the Republic of China in-exile, has been in jail for alleged corruption since shortly after leaving office four years ago.
Chen Shui-bian was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term following a controversial trial and has been imprisoned in harsh conditions and repeatedly denied requested medical treatment. Congressional calls for Chen’s release preceded Ramsey Clark’s decision to visit Chen as public criticism of Chen’s mistreatment has grown, both in Taiwan and the United States.
Chen Shui-bian has been confined to a tiny cell 23 hours a day without a bed, table or chair. Chen’s toilet consists of a hole in the floor and he is fed though a little slot and has had to sit on the floor all day. Chen’s health has suffered in prison and he has a variety of medical problems including a heart condition. Earlier this year Chen learned that he was given a psychiatric medication. lorazepan, without his knowledge by Taipei Prison doctors. Ministry of Justice officials say that Chen is being adequately cared for and has a bedroll to sleep on the floor.
Ramsey Clark has long had an interest in human rights in Taiwan and visited the island in 1980 to express his concerns about the Kaohsiung Incident and the abuses of political prisoners under ROC martial law. Besides meeting with Chen at the prison, Clark also visited with family members and met with leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Meanwhile, the independent medical team that assembled when word of Chen Shui-bian’s health woes became public, has had increasing trouble providing the medical care Chen needs. The doctors have been kept from Chen by prison officials and limited to several brief visits.
The volunteer medical team, a prestigious group of specialists, came together on April 17, 2012, and have been meeting weekly since to discuss Chen’s health. Recently team members have encountered hostility for their efforts. Dr. Ko Wen-Je of Taiwan University Hospital has taken the most heat drawing sharp criticism from members of the Control Yuan for purported negligence in a treatment protocol he developed for organ transplants. Dr. Ko’s wife, also a doctor, is so upset at the negligence charge she wrote a letter to the Liberty Times saying Dr. Ko devoted so much time to his work he was a poor husband and father and did not deserve the criticism.
Cheng Gung Hospital, where Chen was seen in May during an outpatient visit, has declined to allow Chen Shui-bian future medical services. Chen’s supporters say the hospital succumbed to political pressure to deny Chen care.
Pharmacist Janice Chen is blunt about the difficulties Chen’s medical team has encountered: “We don’t know when we can see President Chen, nor can we follow up with our prescriptions and his responses to the treatments. The prison authority dictates when, who, and how many can be allowed to see President Chen via the “special visit”, and we need to go through the tedious application process every single time. Because the “special visit” is limited to once per week and it must be arranged by a congressional legislator, we need to get in the queue and wait for our turn. The restriction we are facing is not acceptable for treating a patient with a frail condition such as President Chen.”
Ramsey Clark ended his trip to Taiwan with a dinner and news conference. At both events Clark called for the immediate release of Chen Shui-bian. Clark said the harsh conditions of Chen’s imprisonment endangered the stability of Taiwan and was an embarrassment for the Republic of China government.