Published in Taipei Times on July 6 2009.
On behalf of the Government of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan, I am writing in response to the “Open letter to Taiwan’s President” cosigned by 26 persons and published by the Taipei Times on May 21, 2009 (page 8). This government has conscientiously responded in detail to three earlier open letters published in the Taipei Times, signed by essentially the same group of persons, expressing concerns about Taiwan’s judicial system, human rights and democracy. The May 21 letter reveals, however, that the signatories continue to have misconceptions on these matters, which I would like to take this opportunity to clear up.
1. False accusations of unjust prosecutorial and judicial processes.
Although, administratively, prosecutors in Taiwan are under the jurisdiction of the executive branch’s Ministry of Justice, they nevertheless in effect function as “judicial officials,” as they enjoy the same legally protected independence as judges under the jurisdiction of the judicial branch.
With regard to charges of corruption against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), former first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and others were indicted as accomplices on Nov. 3, 2006, long before president Chen stepped down in May 2008. When president Chen was finally indicted on Dec. 12, 2008, it was the prosecutor-general appointed by the [former] president himself who approved the indictment.
I would like to reiterate that this administration strictly adheres to a hands-off policy concerning individual legal cases and completely respects the independence of the prosecutorial and judicial systems. This administration cannot possibly change its attitude of noninterference in order to mollify critics who seem to believe it has the power to change things to their liking.
2. No indication of selective prosecution.
To date, most of the family members and former subordinates of former president Chen who are under investigation or on trial have admitted their guilt to prosecutors or judges on all or some of the charges against them. For instance, on Jan. 21, 2009, his son Chen Chih-chung (陳致中) and daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching (黃睿靚) confessed in court to charges in connection with money laundering and sought to plea bargain. Former first lady Wu Shu-jen also confessed to four charges in court on Feb. 10, 2009, including forgery, leaking confidential information, accepting bribes and money laundering. On Feb. 19, former Presidential Office cashier Chen Chen-hui (陳鎮慧) confessed in court to all four charges against her — forgery, perjury, corruption and money laundering.
While the appropriateness of the current pretrial and intra-trial detention system has been widely discussed in various circles of society since the allegations of corruption were brought against former president Chen, the impartiality of the judges and the judicial system has not been seriously questioned.
3. No intervention in CNA editorial policy.
As for the open letter’s accusation of our government’s influence on the Central News Agency’s (CNA) direction of news reporting, I want to set the record straight: The ROC government has never intervened in the CNA’s news reporting or editorial policy. If one looks at recent CNA reports on government actions, one can tell that the news agency covers viewpoints of all sectors, including suspicions and criticisms. This demonstrates that the government has not intervened in CNA operations.
Using rumors to deprecate Taiwan’s freedom of the press as being manipulated through political intervention is baseless and damages the reputation of this government. I hope the signatories will more scrupulously check the validity of claims before making accusations. I also hope that they will stop spreading such false accusations.
4. Retrogression of press freedom unacceptable.
The ROC government has spared no effort to respect and protect press freedom. Indeed, the thriving development of Taiwan’s mass media is a telling manifestation of our press freedom and freedom of speech. According to the 2009 edition of the Freedom of the Press report released by New York-based Freedom House, Taiwan’s news media environment ranked as “free” and second-best in Asia. The ROC government humbly accepts the suggestions made in the Freedom House report concerning Taiwan’s press freedom in the hope that we can achieve a better score next year.
5. No interference in transfer of media ownership.
The open letter urges our government to pay attention to groups with close ties to mainland China that are buying into Taiwan’s media, as their financial muscle might be used to undermine Taiwan’s hard-won press freedom. I would like to express our government’s gratitude for the signatories’ concern in this regard. Since the repeal of the Publication Act in 1999, however, publication of newspapers no longer requires special approval, and shareholdings can be freely transferred. Moreover, governmental interference in private investments in the mass media amounts to interference in press freedom.
Currently, the ROC government has not lifted restrictions on mainland Chinese investment in or operation of Taiwan’s newspapers. In the future, we will keep close watch on whether capital from mainland China is flowing into Taiwan’s media world in order to preserve our national security.
6. Easing of restrictions on public demonstrations.
Our government is profoundly aware that we are at a critical juncture in the development of our free and democratic system. To demonstrate our determination to enhance the protection of the right of assembly, and to carry out President Ma’s [Ying-jeou (馬英九)] campaign pledge to amend the law by requiring only advance notification in place of prior application for permission to hold demonstrations, amendments to the Parade and Assembly Act (集會遊行法) absolutely will not impose stricter requirements but will further ease the already mild restrictions.
In addition, the proposed amendments to the act will place tighter limits on the power of police to disperse gatherings as well as remove provisions regarding criminal penalties. President Ma has promised that the revised law will provide greater latitude than allowed in the United States and other advanced democracies.
Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to all who are concerned for Taiwan, including the signatories of the open letter. We assure you that this administration will never cease striving to safeguard and strengthen our people’s freedom, democracy and human rights.
Government Information Office
Published in Taipei Times on July 6 2009.