Capital punishment in Taiwan

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Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in the Republic of China, a country with effective jurisdiction over the island of Taiwan and the Pescadores, as well as Kinmen, Wuchiu, the Matsu Islands, the Pratas Islands and Itu Aba, and before 1949, over the Chinese mainland.

Before 2000, Taiwan had a relatively high execution rate when some strict laws were still in effect in the harsh political environment.[1] However, after some controversial cases during the 1990s plus some officials' attitude towards abolition, the number of executions dropped significantly, with only three executions in 2005 and none between 2006 and 2009. Execution resumed in 2010 after the early burst out of strong pro-capital punishment activities that year.

Capital offenses[edit]

Under military law[edit]

The Criminal Law of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法) rules the following crimes eligible for death penalty on military personnel:[2]

  • Treason (Article 14, 15)
  • Collaboration (Article 17, 18)
  • Espionage (Article 19, 20)
  • Defection (Article 24)
  • Malfeasance (Article 26, 27)
  • Disclosure of intelligence or secrets (Article 31)
  • Desertion (Article 41, 42)
  • Disobeying orders (Article 47, 48)
  • Mutiny (Article 49, 50)
  • Hijacking (Article 53)
  • Destroying military supplies and equipment (Article 58)
  • Stealing and selling ammunition (Article 65)
  • Fabricating orders (Article 66)

Under civilian law[edit]

A sign at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport warns arriving travelers that drug trafficking is a capital offense in the Republic of China. (photo taken in 2005)

The Republic of China Criminal Code (zh:中華民國刑法) rules the following offenses eligible for death penalty, although none of them carries mandatory death penalty:[3]

  • Treason (Article 101)
  • Espionage (Article 103, 104, 105, 107)
  • Hijacking (Article 185-1)
  • Murder (Article 271, 272)
  • Robbery with murder, rape, or arson (Article 332)
  • Piracy (Article 333, 334)
  • Kidnapping (Article 347, 348)

Article 63 of the Criminal Code also rules that the death penalty cannot be imposed on juvenile offenders aged under 18 or senile offenders aged above 80 for any offenses.

Other special laws which rule non-compulsory capital offenses:

In practice since 2003 almost all death sentences and executions were only given to murder-related offenses. The last execution solely for crimes other than homicide took place in October 2002 to a Pingtung County fisherman who trafficked 295 kg heroin in 1993.[7]

Defunct laws[edit]

The following two laws gave certain offenses a mandatory death penalty. More than half of the executed 658 people mentioned earlier were sentenced in accordance with these laws:

  • Act for the Control and Punishment of Rebellion (zh:懲治叛亂條例, rescinded in May 1991[8]) which imposed a mandatory death sentence on treason, espionage and defection. Enacted in 1949 when the Central Government just retreated to Taiwan, this law was applicable to both military and common courts and played an important role during the white terror period. Related information about some people executed according to this law was not publicized because they were court-martialled. For example, Bo Yang and Shih Ming-teh were both sentenced to death by this law, however they were finally given life imprisonment due to worldwide political pressure during trial.
  • Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry (zh:懲治盜匪條例, rescinded in January 2002[9]) which ruled mandatory death penalty on kidnapping, piracy, or robbery along with murder, rape, or arson. Originally enacted as a short-term special law by the Kuomintang government during the Second Sino-Japanese War period, the law was extended for long time due to all sorts of accidental mishaps.[citation needed]

Execution process[edit]

A ROC judicial execution requires a final sentence from the Supreme Court of the Republic of China and a death order signed by the Minister of Justice. After the Supreme Court issues a final death sentence, the case is transferred to the Ministry of Justice, waiting for the Minister of Justice to issue a final secret execution date. Generally the Ministry of Justice will allow some time for the condemned person to meet his or her family, arrange religious activities, and even get married before the execution. Should any new evidence or procedural flaw which may influence the verdict be discovered during this period, the condemned prisoner may plea to the Ministry of Justice, which may then delay the death warrant, if or when the Solicitor General of Supreme Prosecutors' Office makes a special appeal to Supreme Court for retrial. However such cases are very rare: to date only one condemned prisoner avoided capital punishment in this manner.[10] The President of Republic of China can also award clemency, but so far only President Chiang Kai-Shek ever exercised this legal right on an individual prisoner once in 1957.[11] President Lee Teng-hui also ordered two nationwide commutations in 1988[12] and 1991[13] in which two sentences were commuted from death to life imprisonment.

The death order from the Minister of Justice is received and performed by the High Prosecutors' offices so executions are carried out inside the detention centers of the five cities having a High Court: Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Hualien. Like Japan, ROC death row inmates are kept in detention centers but not prisons, and are kept under harsher conditions than general prisoners. They are imprisoned 2 persons per cell (or sole imprisonment for misbehaving or very violent inmates), handcuffed and fettered all day long (although since late 2006 the Ministry of Justice is experimenting with unfettering death row inmates who behave themselves), only allowed to leave the cell half an hour a day for exercise, but are allowed to read censored newspapers and books as well as practice religious activities with permitted religious personnel.

Executions are carried out by handgun shooting aimed at the heart from the back, or aimed at the brain stem under the ear if the prisoner consents to organ donation. The execution time used to be 5AM, but was changed to 9PM in 1995 to reduce officials' workload. It was changed again to 7.30PM in 2010.[14] Executions are performed in secret: nobody is informed beforehand, including the condemned. The execution chamber is located in the prison complex. The condemned is brought to the chamber by car, and would pay respects to the statue of Ksitigarbha located outside the chamber before entering. Before the execution, the prisoner is brought to a special court next to the execution chamber to have their identities confirmed and any last words recorded. They are then brought to the execution chamber and served their last meal (which includes a bottle of kaoliang).[14] The condemned is then injected with strong anaesthetic to leave him or her completely senseless. They are then placed flat on the ground face down and shot. The executioners would then burn hell bank notes for the deceased before carrying away the corpse.[14] It is customary for the condemned to place a NT$500 or 1000 banknote in their leg irons as a tip for the executioners.[14]

After execution the High Prosecutors' Office in charge will announce the execution in detail. Although the Ministry of Justice has studied other methods including hanging and lethal injection since the early 1990s, execution by shooting (performed by local bailiffs or military policemen) is the only execution method used in the ROC to date (including military executions).

ROC military sentences and executions are administered only by the Ministry of National Defense and have no connection with the Ministry of Justice. Military sentences and executions are carried out in the military courts and prisons across the island as well as Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Unlike the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense does not compile detailed information concerning this issue so the real situation is unclear.

Execution statistics[edit]

ROC's Ministry of Justice annually publishes detailed statistics on this year's executions, including the executed person's name, age, sex, crime, nationality, education, etc. The detailed numbers of executions since 1987 are listed below:[15][16]

The Number of Executed People in the ROC since 1987
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
10 22 69 78 59 35 18 17 16 22 38 32 24 17
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
10 9 7 3 3 0 0 0 0 4 5 6 6

The execution tally was at its height in late 1980s and early 1990s when the martial law was just lifted and the social order suddenly disintegrated. The strict Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry took many prisoners' lives at that time.

Among the executed were a small number from the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. They were executed in the ROC for kidnapping, murder, or drug trafficking offenses.[17][18][19]

Controversial death sentences[edit]

Human vivisection[edit]

There are accounts in which the organs were retrieved from the executed prisoners while they were still medically alive.[20][21]

According to the Death Penalty Procedural Rules (執行死刑規則) of Taiwan, executees who are willing to donate their organs are shot in the head. Twenty minutes after the execution, an examination is conducted to verify the death of the condemned. Prisoners donating organs should be sent to hospitals for organ collection after the completion of the execution is confirmed.[22][23]

According to the Human Organ Transplantation Act (人體器官移植條例) of Taiwan, an organ donator can only donate after being judged as being brain dead by a doctor. When the ventilator is in use, there shall be an observation period of 12 hours for the first evaluation and a four hour period for the second evaluation to reach a judgement of brain death.

In Taiwan, the executees are often sent to hospitals for organ collection without legal confirmation of brain death. Hence, human vivisection for organ collection and transplantation is in practice in Taiwan. There was a case in 1991 in which an executee was found with spontaneous breath when being prepared for organ collection in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital. The executee was sent back to the execution ground to complete the execution. This case caused the Taipei Veterans General Hospital to refuse organ collection of executees for 8 years.[24]

The Hsichih Trio case[edit]

In March 1991 a Hsichih couple Wu Ming-han (吳銘漢) and Yeh Ying-lan (葉盈蘭) were found robbed and brutally murdered inside their apartment. In August 1991 the police seized their neighbor Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝), a youngster who was then serving in the ROC Marines Corps, based on a Wang's bloody fingerprint found at the scene. Wang confessed to the murder after they discovered his housebreaking and burglary, but the police doubted how he alone could have killed two adults so easily and brutally. After torture Wang confessed another three 1972-born youngsters who lived in the same community, Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) and Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎) as accomplices.[25] These four young men further confessed they gang raped Yeh Ying-lan during their action, but the autopsy of Yeh's body did not show traces of sexual assault.[26]

Wang Wen-hsiao was court-martialed and speedily executed in January 1992. The other three defendants were prosecuted by the Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry which ruled compulsory death penalty for their crimes, if found guilty. During trial the defendants repeatedly claimed they were forced to make fake confessions under torture and they were not guilty, but the judges did not believe them.

In February 1995 the Supreme Court of the Republic of China condemned the defendants to death. Originally, the three would have been shot within short time, but then Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou refused to sign their death warrants and returned the whole case back to Supreme Court in hope of a retrial, due to shortcomings such as:

  • The only two pieces of evidence to prove the defendants' guilt was Wang Wen-hsiao's confessions and the NT$ 24 dollars (less than 1 USD) found in Chuang Lin-hsun's home which was considered booty. The evidence was too weak: Wang Wen-hsiao was executed too early to witness the case, and NT$24 was a tiny amount.[27]
  • All four defendants claimed they have been tortured without lawyer present during police interrogation, but the judges did not investigate this point thoroughly. Wang Wen-hsiao's brother Wang Wen-chung (王文忠) even claimed Hsichih police originally asked his brother to confess as an accomplice, but he had refused.
  • There was no way to prove if Yeh Ying-lan was raped.

Between 1995 and 2000 Ma Ying-jeou and his 3 successors filed several retrial requests to the Supreme Court, but all of them were rejected. Meantime this case drew the attention of Amnesty International and was widely broadcast throughout the world, nicknamed as "the Hsichih Trio".[28]

After long time effort the Supreme Court finally ordered a retrial on May 19, 2000, just one day before former President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration. On January 13, 2003 Taiwan High Court passed a verdict that they were not guilty and released them, but the victims' families were unwilling to accept this and kept on appealing.[29] On June 29, 2007 the Taiwan High Court once again found the trio guilty and condemned them to death, but surprisingly did not put them into custody[29] because "the 3 defendants are already worldwide famous and will be identified in any place", the first such case in the ROC history. On Nov 12, 2010, the Taiwan High Court delivered a verdict, revoking the previous decision and finding the three not guilty, "as there was no proof for the crime they were accused of."[30] The prosecutor appealed again, and the Supreme Court ordered yet another retrial On Apr 21, 2011. On Aug 31, 2012, the High Court again decided that the three are not guilty. According to a criminal procedure legislation which came into effect in 2010, when a criminal case entered court procedure more than 6 years ago, and the Supreme Court had ordered more than 3 retrials, if the High Court has already found the defendants to be non-guilty twice and decided non-guilty again in the third trial, the prosecutor can no longer appeal.[31] The High Court delivered the first non-guilty verdict in 2003, and again in 2010. With the 2012 verdict, the Hsichih trio meets the condition of the new criminal legislation, and the case is concluded.[32]

Lu Cheng's case[edit]

Tainan native Lu Cheng (盧正), an unemployed former policeman, was charged with the kidnapping and murder of a local woman Chan Chun-tzu (詹春子) who along with her husband were both Lu's high school classmates in December 1997. The Supreme Court of the Republic of China condemned Lu to death in June 2000 but Lu's family pointed out several suspicious points:[33]

  • Like the Hsichih Trio, Lu Cheng was tortured by police for a long period and was forced to provide confessions.
  • The judges intentionally ignored an apparent alibi that Lu Cheng was together with his juvenile niece at the exact time of the murder.
  • The kidnapper phoned the victim's husband during the crime. If Lu Cheng had committed the kidnapping, the victim's husband should have been able to identify Lu's voice.
  • The verdict stated that the victim was strangled to death by Lu Cheng's shoelaces. However the autopsy showed the victim's strangulation burn did not match Lu's shoelaces.

Despite these suspicious points, the Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan ordered Lu Cheng's execution on September 7, 2000, just one day before that year's Mid-Autumn Festival. It was rumored that Lu Cheng remained conscious after receiving five anesthetic injections at 3AM so the officials had to shoot him while he was conscious, and his eyes remained opened after his death. Lu Cheng's family has continued protesting but there has been no concrete official response to date.

Chiang Kuo-ching's case[edit]

President Ma Ying-jeou and the Ministry of National Defense has made a public apology to the family of former air force private Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) for his wrongful execution in 1997.[34] Chiang was arrested for the 1996 rape and murder of a five-year-old girl. Chiang was tortured into making a false confession by military counterintelligence. After reopening the case, investigators arrested Hsu Rong-chou, who has a record of sexual abuses, on 28 January 2011. Hsu has confessed to the crime. The officials who handled the original investigation are protected by the statute of limitations for public employees.[35]

Religious attitudes[edit]

For capital punishment[edit]

  • Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order claimed that the abolishment of capital punishment is not valid by the laws of karma and vipāka in Buddhism. He has written,

"However, although "severe punishments in chaotic time (亂世用重典)" do not necessarily have effects in stopping crimes, abolishing capital punishment is not valid by the laws of karma and vipāka in Buddhism, because "a karma as such induces a vipāka as such (如是因,招感如是果)"; having committed a karma without experiencing the vipāka is not compatible with reason. Hence, we can wish to reduce the capital punishment, not to recur to the capital punishment, to substitute the capital punishment by other measures, but we do not claim for the abolishment of the capital punishment."[36]

In Buddhist sutras, Angulimala was pardoned after stop being a killer and became a monk and Mahākāśyapa died for karma from killing in a past life.

Temporary Moratorium between 2006 and 2009[edit]

These controversial cases apparently influenced the local judicial system. Chen Ding-nan publicly announced his intention to abolish the death penalty in May 2001[37] and his views were further backed by President Chen Shui-bian.[38][39] Although the right to abolish death penalty is held on the Legislative Yuan which is dominated by the opposing Pan-blue coalition, as well as being more conservative on this issue, the Democratic Progressive Party government informally gave a moratorium by not signing death warrants except for serious and noncontroversial significant cases. As a result, the number of executions have dropped significantly since 2002. In an October 2006 interview, Chen Ding-nan's successor Shih Mao-lin (施茂林) said he would not sign any death warrant for the 19 defendants who were already condemned to death by Supreme Court in near future, because their cases were still being reviewed inside the Ministry.[40] These conditions remained in effect until Chen Shui-bian's tenure expired on May 20, 2008.

In May 2008, Chen Shui-bian's successor Ma Ying-jeou nominated Wang Ching-feng as the Minister of Justice. Wang also held an anti-capital punishment standpoint and delayed every death case delivered to the Minister's Office. Until March 2010, a total of 44 Supreme Court's condemned prisoners were detained by the Ministry but Wang still publicly announced her strong attitude towards anti-capital punishment during media interview. This caused controversy and the consensus suddenly broke out after entertainer Pai Ping-ping (whose daughter Pai Hsiao-yen was kidnapped and murdered in 1997) held strong protest against Wang. Wang, who originally refused to step down, resigned out of social pressure on March 11, 2010.[41] Wang's successor Tseng Yung-Fu(曾勇夫) promised to premier Wu Den-yih that he would resume executions.[42]

Execution Resumed[edit]

On April 30, 2010, Tseng Yung-Fu gave order to 4 executions, ending the 52-month moratorium.[43][44] Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, of the European Union deplored the executions and hoped the Taiwanese authorities to abolish capital punishment.[45]


  1. ^
  2. ^ 編章節 - 條文內容
  3. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—中華民國刑法
  4. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—毒品危害防制條例
  5. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例
  6. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—妨害國幣懲治條例
  7. ^ 走私295公斤海洛因 郭清益伏法
  8. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—懲治叛亂條例
  9. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—懲治盜匪條例
  10. ^ 財團法人民間司法改革基金會 Judicial Reform Foundation
  11. ^
  12. ^ 全國法規資料庫入口網站—中華民國七十七年罪犯減刑條例
  13. ^ 中華民國八十年罪犯減刑條例
  14. ^ a b c d (Chinese) 4囚伏法 張俊宏兩槍才死
  15. ^ 司改會著作.法案-司改雜誌-政策宣示三年 實際作為形同牛步 廢除死刑不該只是口號
  16. ^
  17. ^ zh:反共義士
  18. ^ 大法官解釋_友善列印
  19. ^ 卓長仁,姜洪軍昨槍決 高喊「中華民國萬歲」
  20. ^ 台灣死囚捐器官擬放寬 神經學會反彈
  21. ^ 綜合新聞
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Taipei Times, Guilty by Association? Aug 29, 2010,
  26. ^ The China Post, 'Hsichih Trio' in Surprise Acquittal, Jan 14, 2003,
  27. ^ Taiwan Panorama, New Development in Case of the Hsichih Trio, Nov 2000,
  28. ^ The Case of Su Chien-ho, Liu Bin-lang, and Chuang Lin-hsun
  29. ^ a b Taipei Times, Guilty by Association, Aug 29, 2010,
  30. ^ AFP, Taiwan court acquits three in 20-year-old murder case, Nov 12, 2010,
  31. ^ 新聞辭典:刑事妥速審判法, May 18, 2012, "審判時間超過6年且更三審以上的案件,若...一審判有罪、二審判無罪2次、最後一次判無罪者,檢方即不得再上訴。" "in a criminal case that started its procedure more than 6 years ago and was ordered more than 3 retrials, if the Lower Court ruled guilty, the High Court already ruled non-guilty twice, and ruled non-guilty in the last trial, the prosecutor can no longer appeal."
  32. ^ 中央社,蘇建和案 3人無罪定讞, Aug 31, 2011 "本案高等法院於民國92年1月間再審首次判決無罪,99年11月間再更二審判決無罪,今天再更三審判決無罪,符合速審法第8條規定,全案定讞。" "This case was first decided non-guilty by the High Court in Jan 2003 in its first retrial, it was decided again non-guilty in its second retrial in Nov 2010. Today it is decided non-guilty in the third retrial. Hence it meets the requirement of Article 8 of the 'Speed Trial Act.' This case is concluded."
  33. ^ 司改會觀察監督-檔案追蹤-890802盧正案新聞稿
  34. ^ The China Post, Ma apologizes to the public over wrongful execution February 1, 2011
  35. ^ The China Post, Officials in Chiang case may escape punishment February 1, 2011
  36. ^
  37. ^ 陳定南將全力推動廢除死刑
  38. ^ 陳水扁:廢除死刑 台灣努力目標
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ Wang Ching-feng quits
  42. ^ Tseng Yung-fu named new Justice Minister
  43. ^ Taiwan puts four to death in first executions since 2005 (AFP)
  44. ^ zh:台灣死刑犯列表
  45. ^ Statement Catherine Ashton on resumption of executions in Taiwan

External links[edit]