Chiou Ho-shun and his co-defendants were indicted 22 years ago in the case of the murder of Ms. Ko Hung Yu-lan and the kidnapping of schoolboy Lu Cheng (two cases joined as a single case by the prosecutors in the indictment). The judiciary still has not handed down a final and conclusive judgment in this case, making it the longest-running undecided case with defendants in detention in Taiwan's judicial history. The defendants Chiou Ho-shun have been in detention for over 21 years, Lin Kun-ming have been in detention for over 13 years. The other original defendants have successively waived their rights of appeal, having chosen to serve out sentences rather than suffer continued protracted litigation and the risk of remaining deprived of their liberty, but they have continued to state their innocence. Proven criminal conduct by the police and abuses of authority by prosecutors during the investigation and prosecution of this case, and ingrained indolence on the parts of the judges who have heard the case on repeated appeals over the years, make this case a vivid example of issues underlying Taiwan's failure to make real strides in reforms toward protecting human rights in criminal judicial procedure.
Police Proven to Have Extracted Confessions by Torture
The charges in the two cases are built entirely on confessions made by the defendants during the investigation. But it is an undisputed fact that the defendants were tortured by the police. All of the defendants were held incommunicado from the time of their arrest. During the 4-month-long investigation, they were completely cut off from all outside contact and denied assistance of legal counsel. Throughout the investigation, their minds were clouded with dread because of the torture by the police. When questioned by prosecutors at the police station, they were unable to speak out to the prosecutors about being tortured because they were constantly watched by the police. It was not until they were indicted and the state of incommunicado was lifted that they were finally able to speak out and tell the court that their confessions had been extracted by the police through torture.
Despite conclusive proof of the torture (several of the police officers were impeached by Taiwan's highest-level government watchdog body the Control Yuan for their conduct in the case and subsequently convicted), the court inexplicably chose to exclude only those parts of the confessions in which the torture is clearly captured on audio recording, and admitted the rest of the confessions obtained during the investigation, finding all of the defendants guilty and sentencing defendants including Chiou Ho-shun to death. However, the confessions admitted by the court contain serious mutual contradictions as well as inconsistencies with other evidence admitted in the case, so their veracity is extremely suspect. After the indictment and the trial of first instance by the District Court, the case was appealed to the High Court and then to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has subsequently repeatedly remanded the case back to the High Court, and in the process the case has been heard by several dozen judges, none of whom have yet squarely confronted the serious flaws in the confessions. Instead, the High Court has consistently clipped apart and pieced back together the investigation transcript to skirt the flaws in the evidence and paste up convictions. But it is precisely because the convictions have been arrived at through a process of clipping and pasting that the entire case has remained full of holes all along. So it is no surprise that the Supreme Court has repeatedly remanded the case for retrial.
What Good is a Court Judgment When the Judiciary Obviously Fails to Address the Evidence?
In the 10th remand trial on 13 April 2009, the Taiwan High Court judges once again convicted the defendants in the Lu Cheng case, sentencing Chiou Ho-shun to death, Lin Kun-ming to 17 years in prison, and Wu Shu-chen to 11 years in prison. The findings of fact by the court in the 10th remand trial judgment remain almost identical to the findings of fact in the 9th remand trial judgment that was overturned and remanded by the Supreme Court. The new judgment, by simply reiterating the same threadbare and contradiction-ridden account of events as the previous judgment, sheds light on nothing other than the judiciary's indolence in ignoring the evidence and refusing to pursue the truth. This sham justice has deprived the public of a reasonable explanation and accounting of events, and has prolonged for over two decades the grief suffered by the victims' families.
In addition to the extreme dubiousness of the confessions extracted through torture, a reading of the judgment in the 10th remand trial shows that the judges have simply refused to respond to and address the numerous questionable points in this case. Faced with the court's perfunctory attitude of addressing only those details that it finds convenient, how is the public to maintain any confidence in the quality of court trials in Taiwan? (Please see the separate "A Plea for the Judges to Take Seriously Our Questions About the Points of Contention in This Case" (in Chinese))
Going Through the Motions of Justice Does Not Equal Justice
We have deep sympathy for the plight of the victims of these two egregious crimes and for the loss and suffering experienced by their families. At the same time, we are compelled to call attention to the unfair judicial treatment of Chiou Ho-shun and the other defendants who remain in detention. Making scapegoats of innocent persons because of flaws in the judicial process does not amount to justice for the victims and their families. The support by human rights groups for Chiou Ho-shun and the other defendants in this case is also an appeal for due process to be taken seriously in all cases. While we expect our judiciary to deliver justice for victims and for society, this justice must not come at the expense of depriving others of their rights.
The presumption of innocence and right to a speedy trial are minimum standards of human rights. As stated in the introduction to the Amnesty International Fair Trials Manual,
Every government has the duty to bring to justice those responsible for crimes. However, when people are subjected to unfair trials, justice cannot be served. When people are tortured or ill-treated by law enforcement officials, when innocent individuals are convicted, or when trials are manifestly unfair or are perceived to be unfair, the justice system itself loses credibility. Unless human rights are upheld in the police station, the interrogation room, the detention centre, the court and the prison cell, the government has failed in its duties and betrayed its responsibilities.In the present case, the courts have been unable to marshal sufficient evidence to obtain a final and conclusive judgment against the defendants in the course of litigation lasting more than 21 years. According to the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to a speedy, fair trial, these defendants should be pronounced not guilty and released. But the backward-looking and bureaucratically-oriented judicial system continues to waver from making a clear and decisive decision, with the result that the defendants continue to languish in the detention center with nowhere to turn for a fair hearing, and the victims' families continue to wait for justice to truly arrive. The three remaining defendants have all decided to appeal the judgment of the 10th remand trial. Taiwan's human rights organizations appeal to the international community to heed the plight of Chiou Ho-shun and his co-defendants, and appeal to the Taiwan government to promptly resolve this case in a manner consistent with international standards of human rights. And we ask of Taiwan's judiciary that when it confronts the Lu Cheng case once again, it this time remember the basic human rights of a fair trial, presumption of innocence, and a speedy trial.
As a focal point for our ongoing efforts to support the defendants in this case, the NGOs involved in this effort have created a Blog entitled "Chiou Ho-shun: Killer? or Innocent Scapegoat?" (http://chiouhoshun.blogspot.com). As we continue to sift through and organize materials and evidence in connection with this case, we will post them on this blog to give the public a clearer picture of the case and the questions it raises for Taiwan's justice system.
Media contact persons:
Tsai Chi-hsun (蔡季勳), Secretary General, Taiwan Association for Human Rights (tel: 0935157170)
Chen Yi-chun (陳怡君), Legal Affairs Director, Taiwan Association for Human Rights (tel: 0937525156)