Taiwan execution casts pall over coronavirus diplomacy with Europe

Taiwan execution casts pall over coronavirus diplomacy with Europe


TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s outreach to the European Union has been overshadowed by the bloc’s displeasure at the island’s use of the death penalty, just days after a rare high-profile mention that thanked it for the donation of 6 million masks to battle the coronavirus.

Taiwan is proud of its success in reining in the virus, despite being locked out of bodies such as the World Health Organization under pressure from China, which claims the island as its own, saying it has no right to its own diplomatic ties.

“We really appreciate this gesture of solidarity,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen responded on Twitter after President Tsai Ing-wen announced the donation on Wednesday, as part of a “Taiwan can help” campaign.

“The European Union thanks Taiwan for its donation of 5.6 million masks to help fight the coronavirus,” she added.

But within a few hours of Tsai’s announcement, Taiwan’s justice ministry announced the execution of Weng Jen-hsien, convicted of killing six people in a brutal arson attack.

Rights groups in Taiwan, which was under martial law until 1987, criticised the second execution of Tsai’s administration.

“Taiwan can help. Taiwan can also kill,” said the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

The timing was cynical, said E-Ling Chiu, the Taiwan director of rights group Amnesty International.

“The fact that the authorities carried out this execution on the same day they received global praise for donating 10 million masks to help fight COVID-19 in Europe and the USA exposes a cynical attempt to bury bad news,” she said.

More embarrassingly for Taiwan, the European Union called the death penalty “a cruel and inhumane punishment”, and urged it to stop the practice, while also condemning Weng’s crimes.

“The European Union therefore calls on Taiwan to refrain from any future executions, to reinstate and maintain a de facto moratorium, and to pursue a consistent policy towards the abolition of the death penalty,” it said in a statement published in Taiwan on Saturday.

Two diplomatic sources told Reuters that Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry had been caught off guard by the execution news so soon after the mask announcement, and was not pleased at the timing.

The Foreign Ministry referred questions to the Justice Ministry, adding that it was facilitating communication between that ministry and Europe.

The Justice Ministry declined to add to Wednesday’s statement, in which it said the execution had been perfectly legal though acknowledging there might be “different voices” about the death penalty.

Despite Taiwan’s reputation as Asia’s most liberal democracy, the death penalty remains broadly popular, as it does in neighbouring China, where Amnesty estimates thousands are put to death every year, with the figure deemed a state secret.

Angry comments denouncing the criticism flooded the Facebook pages of Amnesty’s Taiwan branch, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty and the EU’s office in Taiwan.

Still, executions during Tsai’s tenure are outnumbered by the figure of more than a dozen under her predecessor, and the government says it will continue to consult widely on whether to scrap the system.

Taiwan has recorded 373 virus infections and five deaths.


Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Rights groups condemn latest Taiwan execution

Rights groups condemn latest Taiwan execution

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This is the second execution since President Tsai came to power in 2016. (Pixabay pic)

TAIPEI: Rights activists on Friday condemned Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s government for executing a convicted murderer, saying the continued use of capital punishment undermined the island’s progressive reputation.

Death row inmate Weng Jen-hsien, found guilty last year of setting a fire that killed his parents and four relatives in 2016, was executed by a firing squad on Wednesday, the justice ministry said.

Weng, 53, was the second man to be executed since Tsai came to power in 2016 despite a pledge to eventually abolish the death penalty.

The ministry described Weng’s crime as “brutal and ruthless”.

But it added: “Our policy is to gradually abolish the death penalty.”

International and local rights groups urged Taiwan to immediately announce a moratorium on executions and set a timeline for complete abolition.

“The government said its policy is to gradually abolish the death penalty but it took opposite action to carry out its second execution,” Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Shih Yi-Hsiang said.

“This is certainly a regression in human rights. Carrying out executions will not solve any problem,” he told AFP.

Chiu E-Ling, director of Amnesty International Taiwan, accused the government of making a “cynical attempt to bury bad news” by carrying out the execution on the same day it announced the donation of 10 million face masks to countries hit hardest by the coronavirus.

The justice ministry statement announcing the execution was released late at night on Wednesday.

Dictatorship to democracy 

Over the last few decades Taiwan has morphed from a dictatorship to one of Asia’s most progressive democracies.

Some rights groups and media organisations have even set up regional headquarters in Taiwan, primarily as a base to monitor more authoritarian China.

Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party successfully legalised same-sex marriage last year, making Taiwan the first place in Asia to do so.

But the death penalty remains on the books, with most surveys showing it is popular among the public.

Taiwan resumed capital punishment in 2010 after a five-year hiatus. There are currently 39 prisoners on death row.

The first execution under the Tsai administration was in August 2018 when a 41-year-old man was put to death for killing his ex-wife and five-year-old daughter.

In 2016 a former college student was executed for killing four people in a random stabbing spree on a subway that shocked the generally safe island.

Tsai won a landslide second term in January and will be inaugurated in May. – FMT, 3/4/2020

Taiwan – Criminals given death sentence in Taiwan will be executed: Premier Su

Criminals given death sentence in Taiwan will be executed: Premier Su

KMT lawmaker calls on government to proceed with executions, premier says law will be upheld

By Duncan DeAeth, Taiwan News, Staff Writer

Premier Su Tseng-chang speaks at Legislative Yuan, Oct. 4

Premier Su Tseng-chang speaks at Legislative Yuan, Oct. 4 (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) on Friday (Oct. 4) expressed his support for upholding the law to carry out the death penalty for certain criminal offenses.

Speaking at a Legislative Yuan hearing, Su said that under the current law, it is the state’s responsibility to carry out the sentence if a criminal is given the death penalty. He was responding to opposition Kuomintang lawmaker Shen Chih-hwei (沈智慧)’s question as to whether the Tsai administration would hesitate to carry out capital punishment.

Taiwan last carried out a death sentence in August 2018, when Lee Hung-chi (李宏基) was executed for the murder of his wife and daughter. Lee’s death marked the end of a two-year moratorium on capital punishment in Taiwan and was the first death sentence carried out under the Tsai administration.

Since Su became premier in January 2019, there have been no executions carried out. There are currently 43 people on death row in the country, with the most recent being Weng Jen-hsien (翁仁賢), the arsonist responsible for the death of six people, including his parents, whose death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court on July 10.

Weng’s was the first death sentence in the country in two years. In response to Shen’s suggestion that Su was hesitant to carry out the death penalty, the premier emphasized that he has no desire to protect those who commit evil acts and that sentences handed down by the courts must be carried out in accordance with the law.

However, Su also made it clear that the authority to authorize capital punishment rests with the Minister of Justice. He clarified that as premier, he is not the one to order any executions.

CNA reports that the current Minister of Justice, Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥), has called for a “prudent approach” to the death penalty. Tsai believes that the government must uphold the law that currently exists but that the country should work towards abolishing the death penalty at some point in the future.

Shen criticized the positions of both the minister of justice and the premier, declaring that their statements are “vague and unclear.” She recognized that neither official has made a clear commitment to carrying out the law, which they claim should be upheld. – Taiwan News, 4/10/2019