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

sharethis sharing button
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

Prison inmates live in fear of a coronavirus death sentence

Prison inmates live in fear of a coronavirus death sentence

whatsapp sharing button
sharethis sharing button
In some cells in Iraq, Iran, Syria, prisoners are crammed in, with little access to hygiene or medical care. (AP pic)

JAKARTA: Sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor of a crumbling, windowless room, prisoners in Indonesia fear an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus inside its walls is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

“It will be a breeding ground for the virus, should it get into any prison,” said Brett Savage, locked inside Kerobokan prison known as “Hotel K” – on the Indonesian island of Bali, where 1,500 prisoners occupy blocks built for 350 people.

Overcrowding, poor ventilation and deficient health, hygiene and sanitation conditions will favour the rapid spread of infectious diseases – making prisons around the world a flashpoint for the new disease.

Prevention measures used in wider society – such as social distancing and frequent hand washing – are often impossible to enforce, leaving authorities with tough choices

And panic is proving especially dangerous inside.

In Thailand unrest led to a group of inmates escaping after rumours a fellow prisoner had tested positive, while 23 died in riots at a Colombian facility amid tensions over the virus.

US jails confined all detainees to their cells, with most visits and transfers cancelled, after dozens were infected with Covid-19, while a string of states has planned to release non-violent prisoners.

Rights groups have warned of a race against time to protect inmates, calling on all countries to relieve the pressure on packed prisons through early release rulings.

Savage, a South African nine years into a 20-year sentence for trafficking crystal meth, described an environment where masks are unavailable for prisoners, contractors are still regularly allowed free access and health advice is non-existent.

“The majority of the people have no idea about basic hygiene, plenty of people are blowing their nose onto the floor and spitting everywhere,” he told AFP.

“If they can’t manage on the outside, how will they manage when it gets into the prison system?”

Nearly 1,800 people have been infected and 170 have died in Indonesia, but rates of testing are low and experts fear the true figures are far higher in the country of more than 260 million people.

The country has released more than 30,000 inmates, amounting to some 10% of the country’s prison population, and was quick to ban relatives from visiting during the crisis.

But even a release on this scale leaves prisons still operating overcapacity.

Meanwhile, the Philippines – where prisons cram in up to five times the number of inmates they are built for – has not indicated they will release anyone early, despite calls from international human rights organisations to do so.

No perfect choice

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned prisons are likely to see a higher mortality rate from an outbreak because inmates are often already in poor health and care facilities are less efficient than in general society.

Pakistan is already struggling to contain a small cluster of 49 confirmed cases at a Lahore jail, where a prisoner arriving from Italy tested positive in March.

Rabia knows only too well the dangerous health risks posed in Pakistan’s overcrowded prisons. Her son Sajjad, who is serving a sentence in Lahore, is now paraplegic after contracting life-threatening meningitis after poor treatment by prison medical staff.

“I have no idea what condition he’s in, how he is surviving,” said Rabia, unable to visit or contact Sajjad since Pakistan was hit by Covid-19.

“I pray that this disease doesn’t spread in the jail, but if it does will we even find out? We won’t,” she added, asking AFP to not use her real name.

Several high courts in the country ordered the release of hundreds of people awaiting trial or sentenced for petty crimes to ease the burden on creaking systems.

But the country’s Supreme Court abruptly put a halt to the move last week.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, the president ordered 10,000 women, young offenders, critically ill patients and older inmates released to “safeguard the health of people”.

So far only a few thousand have been freed.

India has already released thousands of inmates, after the Supreme Court advised prisons to free those awaiting trial for crimes with punishments of seven years or less.

Harsh Mander, a social activist in India, admitted authorities face difficult choices, running the risk of permitting the virus to spread as released prisoners make long journeys home, some to far-flung villages.

“There is of course a trade off – there is a question of them carrying the virus. There is no perfect choice here,” he said. – FMT, 7/4/2020