Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wo Weihan, a case for Taipei [UPDATED]

With organizations such as Amnesty International calling on Beijing to commute the death sentence against Wo Weihan (伍維漢), 59, a medical scientist convicted of spying for Taiwan, authorities in Taipei, already embattled by accusations of politicizing the judicial system, cannot afford to remain silent. Despite Taipei’s attempt under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to mend ties with Beijing, or Wo’s alleged intelligence collection on Taiwan's behalf, the Wo case is such an example of Chinese injustice that failure to make an appeal would be tantamount to Taipei forsaking the moral high ground in the Taiwan Strait.

Wo (pictured above, with daughter), who was sentenced to death in May 2007 — a sentence that was recently approved by the Supreme People’s Court — could be executed as early as tomorrow.

The reason why Taipei should follow Amnesty and Wo’s daughter, Ran Chen, in appealing to Beijing to extend the stay of execution is that aside from China executing more people annually than any other country (470 documented cases last year), there are indications that Wo did not face a fair trial: He was not represented by a lawyer, the trial was held behind closed doors, and he was forced to make a confession while in detention, which he later recanted.

Furthermore, the nature of the accusations — even if they turned out to be true — certainly should not carry the death sentence. Wo was found guilty (the indictment actually reads “might”) of discussing the health of Chinese leaders, which under Chinese law is considered a “state secret,” as well as passing on, or “leaking,” unclassified publications available in library (subsequently classified) to a group with alleged ties to Taiwanese intelligence.

At the very minimum, Taipei must publicly and in no uncertain terms, even if this means undermining warming relations with China, appeal to Beijing and use whatever leverage it has with the regime to have the ruling overturned. Failing to do so, failing to stand by and defend due process, the Ma administration would only confirm what many fear is a slow erosion of Taiwan’s sovereignty, as no Taiwanese government that respects itself would remain silent in the face of such a gross miscarriage of justice. (Not to mention that a man, even if he were guilty, would be executed for reasons that by whatever yardstick one evaluates the case, should not have been sentenced to death.)

Ironically, while this case is in China, it provides the Ma administration with an opportunity to uphold Taiwan’s sovereignty and show the world what Taiwan stands for. Whether it seizes that opportunity or not will be a test of its independence vis-a-vis Beijing and indicative of whether Taipei sees itself as an equal, or a lesser partner, in its dealings with China.

Update: Mr. Wo was executed on Friday, sparking strong condemnation from the US and EU. At this writing, I am not aware of any comments being made by Taipei.

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