Capital punishment in Taiwan
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 strict laws were still in effect in the harsh political environment. However, after controversial cases during the 1990s and the changing attitudes of some officials towards abolition, the number of executions dropped significantly, with only three executions in 2005 and none between 2006 and 2009. Executions resumed in 2010.
- 1 Capital offenses
- 2 Execution process
- 3 Execution statistics
- 4 Controversial death sentences
- 5 Religious attitudes
- 6 Temporary Moratorium between 2006 and 2009
- 7 Execution Resumed
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Under military law
- 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
- 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 offenders aged under 18 or above 80 for any offenses.
Other special laws which rule non-compulsory capital offenses:
- Unauthorized manufacture, trafficking or selling of heroin, opium, morphine or cocaine (Act for the Control of Drug Abuse, zh:毒品危害防制條例 Article 4)
- Unauthorized manufacture, trafficking or selling of firearm weapons (Act for the Control of Weapons, zh:槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例 Article 7)
- Serious counterfeiting which disturbs financial order (Penal Act of Offenses Against National Currency, zh:妨害國幣懲治條例 Article 3)
In practice, since 2003 almost all death sentences and executions have been restricted to murder-related offenses. The last execution solely for crimes other than homicide took place in October 2002 in the case of a Pingtung County fisherman who trafficked 295 kg heroin in 1993.
The following two laws previously gave certain offenses a mandatory death penalty, and have historically made a significant contribution to the numbers of people executed:
- Act for the Control and Punishment of Rebellion (zh:懲治叛亂條例, rescinded in May 1991) which imposed a mandatory death sentence on treason, espionage and defection. Enacted in 1949 when the Central Government had just retreated to Taiwan, this law was applicable in both military and common courts and played an important role during the white terror period. Information about people sentenced according to this law was restricted because they counted as court-martials. In two high-profile cases, Bo Yang and Shih Ming-teh were both sentenced to death under this law, but were finally given life imprisonment due to worldwide political pressure during their trials.
- Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry (zh:懲治盜匪條例, rescinded in January 2002) which ruled a mandatory death penalty on kidnapping, piracy, or robbery along with murder, rape, and 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 for a variety of reasons.
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, where the Minister of Justice issues 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 for any religious rites, 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 make a plea to the Ministry of Justice. This may then delay the death warrant, if 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. 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. President Lee Teng-hui also ordered two nationwide commutations in 1988 and 1991 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 under harsher conditions than general prisoners. They are imprisoned 2 inmates to a cell (or solitary imprisonment in cases of misbehavior or violence), handcuffed and fettered all day long (although since late 2006 the Ministry of Justice has been experimenting with unfettering death row inmates who behave themselves). Prisoners on death row are 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 approved religious personnel.
Executions are carried out by shooting using a handgun 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. 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 pays respect 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). The condemned prisoner is then injected with strong anaesthetic to render him or her completely senseless, laid flat on the ground, face down, and shot. The executioner then burns votive bank notes for the deceased before carrying away the corpse. It is customary for the condemned to place a NT$500 or 1000 banknote in their leg irons as a tip for the executioners.
After the execution, the High Prosecutors' Office will issue the official announcement of the execution. 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 currently (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 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 release detailed information on executions, and so little information is available.
The ROC's Ministry of Justice annually publishes detailed statistics on each year's executions, including the executed person's name, age, sex, crime, nationality, education, etc. The numbers of executions since 1987 are listed below:
The execution tally was at its height in late 1980s and early 1990s when the martial law had just been lifted and social order was destabilized. The strict Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry resulted in the execution of many prisoners.
Among the executed were a small number of foreign nationals 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.
Controversial death sentences
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 person. Prisoners donating organs are sent to hospitals for organ collection after completion of the execution is confirmed.
According to the Human Organ Transplantation Act (人體器官移植條例) of Taiwan, an organ donor can only donate after being judged brain dead by a medical doctor. When a ventilator is in use, there must 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, there have been cases of executees being sent to hospitals for organ collection without legal confirmation of brain death, leading to accusations that human vivisection for organ collection and transplantation is in practice in Taiwan. There was a case in 1991 in which an executee was found to be still breathing unaided 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.
The Hsichih Trio case
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 arrested their neighbor Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝), then serving in the ROC Marines Corps, based on Wang's bloody fingerprint found at the scene. Wang confessed to the murder after investigators discovered evidence of him breaking in and burgling the house, but the police doubted that he could have killed two adults so easily and brutally without help. Under torture, Wang confessed to help from three accomplices 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. These four young men further confessed that they gang raped Yeh Ying-lan during their break-in, but the autopsy of Yeh's body showed no traces of sexual assault.
Wang Wen-hsiao was court-martialed and speedily executed in January 1992. The other three defendants were prosecuted under the Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry which stipulated compulsory death penalty for their crimes, if found guilty. During their 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 found against the defendants. According to procedure, the three should then have executed by shooting as soon as possible, but then Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou refused to sign their death warrants and returned the whole case back to the Supreme Court in hope of a retrial, citing shortcomings such as:
- Only two pieces of evidence were brought against the defendants: Wang Wen-hsiao's confessions and the NT$ 24 dollars (less than 1 USD) found in Chuang Lin-hsun's home and considered to be booty. The evidence was too weak: Wang Wen-hsiao was executed too early to witness the case, and NT$24 was a tiny amount.
- Although all four defendants claimed they were tortured during police interrogation, at which there was no lawyer present, 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 proof that Yeh Ying-lan was raped.
Between 1995 and 2000 Ma Ying-jeou and his 3 successors filed several retrial requests with 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".
Eventually the Supreme Court ordered a retrial on May 19, 2000, just one day before former President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration. On January 13, 2003 the Taiwan High Court passed a verdict that they were not guilty and released them, but the victims' families were unwilling to accept this and appealed. On June 29, 2007 the The Taiwan High Court once again found the trio guilty and condemned them to death, but surprisingly did not put them in custody because "the 3 defendants are already famous worldwide and will be identified in any place", the first such case in the ROC history. On Nov 12, 2010, the Taiwan High Court delivered another verdict, revoking the previous decision and finding the three not guilty, "as there was no proof for the crime they were accused of." The prosecutor appealed again, and the Supreme Court ordered yet another retrial On Apr 21, 2011. On Aug 31, 2012, the High Court reaffirmed the innocence of the three defendants. According to criminal procedure legislation which came into effect in 2010, when court proceedings have begin on a criminal case more than 6 years previously, 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. 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.
Lu Cheng's case
In December 1997, 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 former high school classmates of Lu's. The Supreme Court of the Republic of China sentenced Lu to death in June 2000 but his family noted several suspicious points:
- Like the Hsichih Trio, Lu Cheng had been tortured by police and was forced into making a confession.
- The judges intentionally ignored Lu Cheng's alibi that he had been with his young niece at the 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 Lu Cheng had used his shoelaces to strangle the victim. However the autopsy showed the victim's strangulation burns 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 continues to protest but there has been no concrete official response to date.
Chiang Kuo-ching's case
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. 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 then confessed to the crime. The officials who handled the original investigation are protected by the statute of limitations for public employees.
For capital punishment
- Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order claimed that the abolishment of capital punishment is not valid under 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 according to 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."
Temporary Moratorium between 2006 and 2009
These controversial cases apparently influenced the local judicial system. Chen Ding-nan publicly announced his intention to abolish the death penalty in May 2001 and his views were backed by President Chen Shui-bian. Although the right to abolish death penalty is held by the Legislative Yuan which is currently dominated by the opposing Pan-blue coalition, as well as being more conservative on this issue, the Democratic Progressive Party government forced a moratorium by not signing death warrants except for serious and noncontroversial cases. As a result, the number of executions dropped significantly from 2002. In an October 2006 interview, Chen Ding-nan's successor Shih Mao-lin (施茂林) said he would not sign any death warrants for the 19 defendants who had already been sentenced to death by the Supreme Court, because their cases were still being reviewed inside the Ministry. 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 opposed capital punishment and delayed every case delivered to the Minister's Office. Until March 2010, a total of 44 prisoners given death sentences by the Supreme Court were detained by the Ministry but Wang still publicly announced her strong opposition to capital punishment during media interviews. This caused controversy and the consensus suddenly broke after entertainer Pai Ping-ping (whose daughter Pai Hsiao-yen was kidnapped and murdered in 1997) held a high-profile protest against Wang. Wang, who originally refused to step down, bowed to social pressure and resigned on March 11, 2010. Wang's successor Tseng Yung-Fu (曾勇夫) promised premier Wu Den-yih that he would resume executions.
On April 30, 2010, Tseng Yung-Fu ordered 4 executions, ending the 52-month moratorium. Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, of the European Union condemned the executions and called on the Taiwanese authorities to abolish capital punishment.
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- The Case of Su Chien-ho, Liu Bin-lang, and Chuang Lin-hsun
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- The Judicial Yuan of the Republic of China (Chinese)