An open letter to President Ma

By Theodore Anderson

Dear President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九):

On behalf of the Friends of Taiwan organization, I request that you grant former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) either a pardon or medical parole.

Friends of Taiwan is a non-profit, non-partisan group of native-born US citizens and Taiwanese-Americans incorporated in 2001. Our missions include promoting public understanding of issues concerning Taiwan and supporting democracy and human rights on the island.

Last month marks the fourth anniversary of president Chen’s incarceration.

Commentator Michelle Wang (王美琇), who visited Chen in prison, filed a report in the Taipei Times (“Crying out for humanitarianism,” Aug. 2, page 8) describing the conditions of Chen’s detention. The size of Chen’s prison cell is four square meters, shared with another inmate. The toilet is a hole in the floor.

“When Chen gets out of bed, he must squat over the hole to wash his face and brush his teeth,” Wang said.

Twenty-four hours a day the cell is flooded with light and a surveillance camera records his every move, even when he takes a shower or uses the toilet. There is no bed, chair or desk and Chen must sleep on the cold floor and write articles lying there.

Chen is confined to this small, damp bathroom and allowed just one hour of exercise each day. He is not allowed to work in the prison factory. After four years of harsh detention and lack of proper medical care, Chen now suffers from numerous illnesses, including acute coronary syndrome (potentially fatal reduction of blood flow to the heart), blood clots and tumors in the prostrate, gastroesophageal reflux, duodenal wall inflammation, rectal erosion, a collapsed left lower lung lobe, sleep apnea, bleeding vas deferens, arthritis and autonomic nerve disorder. MRI images also show damage to his brain.

Chen is also severely depressed. Sometimes he fears being poisoned by prison food and has lost the will to live, having said he wants to commit suicide.

Chen is now being treated at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, over the objections of his family, which preferred care by a team of independent physicians less susceptible to political manipulation. Even now the prison warden visits Chen every day, threatening to send him back to prison.

President Ma, most people in Taiwan remember that you vowed to see Chen die an ugly death at the height of the “red shirt” rebellion in 2006. It appears you are now using the judiciary and prison staff to realize your goal of political retribution. US Representative Steve Chabot has criticized your actions as “criminalization of politics.”

On June 11 a US team of human rights doctors visited Chen and wrote a report on the effect of incarceration on his physical and mental health. On July 12, two US congressmen, Representative Robert Andrews and Representative Dan Lungren, submitted the report to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The report concluded that medical parole is the most appropriate effective treatment intervention.

On July 13, US Senator Sherrod Brown called on US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell to “give careful consideration” to the report.

US Representative Ed Royce has written to you on this subject. Hans van Baalen, leader of the Dutch Liberals in the European Parliament, who saw Chen early last month, is convinced that medical parole is warranted. Former US representative Tom Tancredo, who visited Chen on Nov. 9, voiced the same opinion, adding that “Taiwan’s democracy should be above this kind of political score settling.”

The Nov. 15 press release issued by Jack Healey, director of the Human Rights Action Center in Washington, which sponsored a visit by two academics well-versed in human rights and prison standards to investigate Chen’s plight, is even more blunt. It said the lack of access to independent medical care was jeopardizing Chen’s health and some of his conditions could be fatal.

“Chen Shui-bian should not be allowed to be killed in custody due to medical neglect … Mr Chen should be sent home to recover or die in peace,” it said.

Taiwanese-American groups are trying to help Chen. The Formosan Association for Public Affairs has launched a campaign to seek Chen’s medical parole. Inside Taiwan, 16 city and county legislatures have adopted resolutions pleading for Chen’s release. Many other groups have protested against his mistreatment, all to no avail.

Recently the prestigious journal The Economist ridiculed you as “an ineffectual bumbler” for your inept management of Taiwan’s economy. On Nov. 17, you announced your decision to deny medical parole to Chen through a mouthpiece who claimed that international concern about Chen’s health is based on “misunderstanding.” Such mendacity only serves to solidify your reputation as an sinister schemer.

Taiwan’s lower and middle classes are suffering from stagnant wages, high prices and lack of decent jobs. Even Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators have begun to criticize your incompetence. Your approval rating stands at 13 percent. Have you considered the consequences of your persistent pursuit of an ugly death for Chen?

Chen will certainly die in prison unless he is granted medical parole. His death combined with the pent-up resentment over your misrule could trigger massive protests. After the Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated, there were widespread riots in the US. The beating of a Taiwanese woman by Chinese police in Taipei on Feb. 27, 1947, resulted in an island-wide uprising. The necessary conditions for another upheaval are in place. The antagonism between the majority native Taiwanese and the Chinese refugees who came to Taiwan in 1949 and their descendants will be aggravated by your conduct and the social unrest could become unmanageable. After all, the lower and middle ranks of the police and the military are composed mainly of native Taiwanese. By abusing Chen’s human rights, you are symbolically stomping on the dignity of Taiwanese.

China has maintained that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will invade if there is a major social disturbance in Taiwan. Yet the Chinese Communist Party leadership is in transition and it needs time to consolidate its power and to deliberate on China’s future direction. This may not be an opportune time for China to take military action. China may also prefer peaceful annexation of Taiwan. Beijing will lose face, however, if it appears powerless to act when the survival of your administration is threatened.

The US will be unhappy with you because instability within Taiwan and tension across the Taiwan Strait are most unwelcome developments. Despite its “pivot” to Asia policy, the US would be reluctant to test its armed forces against the PLA’s anti-access, area denial capabilities.

Once you offend the people in Taiwan, Washington and Beijing, you could lose your grip on power.

Mr President, I urge you to either pardon former president Chen or grant him medical parole so he can receive medical care by physicians of his choosing or he can die in peace, surrounded by his family.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore Anderson
President, Friends of Taiwan, Inc.

Dec. 8, 2012 Published on Taipei Times