The sudden pre-dawn transfer of Chen Shui-bian to Pei-Teh clinic at Taichung Prison from his locked psychiatric room at Veterans Hospital in Taipei last week triggered a suicide attempt by Chen after he learned the news, generated a street demonstration, spurred the Democratic Progressive Party to protest, and was condemned on April 22 by the Human Rights Action Center as “slow-motion murder”.
Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China in-exile from 2000 to 2008, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for alleged corruption following a controversial trial. The trial irregularities combined with the harsh prison conditions Chen has been subjected to have led many to call him a political prisoner. For the last six months Chen has been confined in a locked room on a psychiatric unit because of his severe depression and neurological deterioration. While serving his prison sentence, Chen Shui-bian had been imprisoned in a tiny punishment cell without even a bed, while subjected to constant 24-hour a day overhead lights and a security camera aimed at his no-flush toilet. Chen was also denied the opportunity to work in the prison factory and was kept isolated at Taipei Prison.
According to Chou Yuan-hua, Chen’s primary doctor, Chen Shui-bian attempted to hang himself in his bathroom with a long-sleeved shirt after being told he was returning to prison. Chen had tied his undershirt to a door handle and let himself drop to the floor with the shirt around his neck. Hospital staff intervened to prevent the suicide but Chen’s attempt to take his own life did not stop the transfer.
Chen Shui-bian’s suicide attempt was forewarned by Dr. Chou who said at a legislative hearing on April 1: "In my position as a physician, I advised against the idea of sending him back to Taipei Prison. Otherwise, he would definitely be a suicide risk.”
Two weeks ago, Dr. Chou made a formal diagnosis and recommendation to the Ministry of Justice:
“The illnesses of this patient include severe depression, severe sleep apnea, atypical Parkinson's disease, and hemorrhoids. This patient is currently hospitalized. He continues to suffer speech stuttering, hand trembling, unresolved symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. In addition, he has conditions of urinary incontinence at night. Scanned brain images indicate signs of mild brain degeneration. The patient should be sent home to recover. Afterward, the patient should return to the hospital periodically for follow-up examinations and treatments.”
The Ministry of Justice was ordered by the Control Yuan last September to develop criteria for medical release from jail but has not yet complied. The failure to establish medical criteria for release recently earned a sharp public rebuke from Taipei District Judge Hong Yin-hua.
ROC Vice Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang on April 1, told a legislative hearing that the Ministry of Justice would evaluate Chen Shui-bian for medical parole before the end of the month and promised a comprehensive assessment. However, the rushed move of Chen was done in such haste there was no treatment plan developed for the prison clinic that involved Chen’s doctors in Taipei and his prescription medications were left behind.
The sudden move of Chen Shui-bian is contrary to the medical advice of all of Chen’s doctors and places the former president in a prison clinic without a full-time doctor, pharmacist, or psychiatrist. Chen will be monitored by six security officers and attended to by three prison inmates according to news reports.
The abrupt transfer sparked a noisy street demonstration by the Alliance for Safe-Guarding Taiwan with 100 protestors outside the prison gates urging Chen Shui-bian’s release. Democratic Progressive Party chairman Su Tseng-chang met with Alliance leader Aquia Tsay and others before entering the prison to visit Chen. Su said the treatment of Chen had caused “disharmony in Taiwan society” and called for humane treatment of Chen.
Chen Shui-bian’s former vice-president, Annette Lu, said the Ministry of Justice was being “shady and deceitful” in the way the transfer was handled.
Jack Healey of the Human Rights Action Center, based in Washington, D.C., was more blunt with his criticism of Chen Shui-bian’s treatment by the Kuomintang administration of Chen’s successor, Ma Ying-jeou.
“Ma Ying-jeou's government has been credibly accused of interfering with the judicial process and being motivated by revenge politics throughout this process,” said Healy today in a Huffington Post blog.
Jack Healey: “Do not let Ma Ying-jeou murder Chen Shui-bian without speaking up against it. Do not let this happen without letting him know that the eyes of the world are on him and that he is behaving abominably. These are not the universal standards of justice or human rights being implemented in Taiwan. This is grudge and cowardice and abuse.”
Ma Ying-jeou’s popularity is at an all-time low according to opinion polls while a majority of the Taiwanese public favors medical release for Chen Shui-bian. After Chen was arrested for purported corruption shortly after leaving office he was disavowed by many in his party and convicted in a controversial no-jury trial. However, as the public learns of the harsh treatment meted out to Chen by Ma Ying-jeou’s government, sympathy for the former president has grown.
One international law attorney familiar with Chen Shui-bian’s case, Jonathan Levy, says the Chen case is outrageous. Levy said, “It’s like if the Republicans locked up John F. Kennedy, something should be done. It may be time to invoke the Torture Victims Protection Act.” The Taiwan Relations Act human rights clause extends authority of U.S. courts over prisoners such as Chen says Levy.
ROC Premier Jiang Yi-huah has rejected Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Mark Chen’s claim that the legal proceedings in Chen’s case had been a “political persecution” and had been interfered with by Ma Ying-jeou.
“The Ma Ying-jeou that I know would never do something like this. And I do not believe the judges involved in Chen’s corruption cases tried to set him up,” Jiang said.
On International Human Rights Day in Taipei, a group of Chen Shui-bian supporters in the audience shouted Ma Ying-jeou off the stage at an award ceremony. Ma’s treatment of Chen infuriated the protestors who said Ma Ying-jeou is not qualified to present human rights awards because of what he has done to Chen Shui-bian.
The prison transfer comes on the heels of the chief witness against Chen, Jeffery Koo, Jr., declaring in court that his statement against Chen Shui-bian was false and coerced by the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office.
As the case against Chen Shui-bian unravels and his medical condition deteriorates the continued imprisonment of Chen is an issue of growing public concern in Taiwan and throughout the world.