Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Guilty until taken to court

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said on Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-affiliated radio this morning that as Taiwan is a country run by laws, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who was taken to a detention center early this morning over allegations of corruption and money laundering, would be presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the government would not meddle in prosecutors’ efforts to determine his guilt.

Ma, who studied law at Harvard but never passed the bar, was probably too jubilant to fully appreciate the irony in his remarks. For given the KMT’s strong hold on pan-blue media in Taiwan, anyone from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) who is already in jail or faces jail over various accusations of corruption is already painted, in the court of public opinion, as being guilty, with little chances of clearing their names. Or that the court has been dragging its feet on 26 separate cases of corruption involving KMT officials, as DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said yesterday.

It doesn’t help, either, that some KMT legislators were celebrating Chen’s detention with public comments and firecrackers on Tuesday night, as if his detention were proof of his guilt before his trial even begins. Or, for that matter, that the Prosecutors' Office could not provide any compelling argument for Chen's detention, let alone why he needed to be handcuffed yesterday.

In such an environment, ensuring a fair and impartial court decision on Chen and other DPP defendants will be a formidable task. In fact, to avoid a repeat of the kangaroo courts that characterized much of the Martial Law era in Taiwan, if the Ma administration means what it says when it claims to respect judicial independence and to be dedicated to the rule of law, should take the lead and invite outside observers to oversee the cases.

No Chinese need apply, though.

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