Law Professor Jerome Cohen denied plans to establish a study committee to review the human rights of imprisoned former President Chen Shui-bian in a Dec. 21 letter to the editor. The incarcerated former leader of the Republic of China in-exile has been held in harsh conditions since his 2009 conviction following a controversial trial marred by procedural irregularities.
In Jerome Cohen's letter to the Taipei Times, Cohen claimed he had been misquoted by legislator Gao Jyh-peng. Gao had arranged for Cohen to make his first-time visit to Chen in the hospital cell where he is currently being confined.
Cohen now says confusion over the Chen trial study group arose because he is a member of a review committee studying the first ROC human rights report. Cohen was handpicked by the Ministry of Justice to grade the ROC report.
Cohen is a confidant of incumbent ROC President Ma Ying-jeou who is long accustomed to getting passing grades from Cohen. Ma was “teacher’s pet” in Cohen’s Harvard Law School classroom and media reports often name Cohen as Ma’s mentor. Ma was allowed to graduate from Harvard despite submitting an error-ridden thesis. Ma’s thesis contained over 1000 typos, omissions, format errors, and footnotes that could not be verified.
Cohen would have been ill-suited to review Chen Shui-bian’s trial for fairness in light of his earlier published remarks. Cohen, writing for the U.S. Asia Law Institute, was quick to pass judgment on the trial declaring, “It is not a political vendetta by the newly-installed government of President Ma Ying-jeou.”
Cohen accused Chen Shui-bian of “misconduct” and said the trial was an expression of public sentiment. “It reflects popular revulsion and disillusionment over the misconduct of the former leader of the Democratic Progressive Party.”
Chen Shui-bian’s trial included an after-hours skit on Law Day by prosecutors mocking Chen at a judicial conference. The controversial trial lacked a jury, there was a change of judges after rulings favorable to Chen, there was restricted public seating to 18 persons, but reserved courtroom seating for two “Red Team” hecklers. The judge held middle-of-the night court sessions and there was a denial of private communication between Chen and his attorneys imposed by the pretrial detention on Chen, There was also a steady flow of media leaks from prosecutors and the trial included perjured testimony which was later recanted by the key witness.
Numerous legal experts in Taiwan have criticized the trial with one sitting judge calling the verdict against Chen “illegal” because of the switching of judges. Following Chen’s conviction he has been held with another prisoner in a tiny 6 x 9 foot cell for 23 hours-a-day with constant overhead lighting. Deprived of even a bed, Chen has been forced to live, eat and sleep on the floor of his punishment cell. Chen is now confined to a hospital cell at a for his severe depression and other health issues brought on by his prison conditions according to the volunteer team of doctors involved with Chen’s care.