Special election offers hope after bribery scandal stuns indigenous district

9 Jul

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The dark cloud left by a vote-buying scandal last year in Fuhsing District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan’s semi-autonomous indigenous region, may have a silver lining in Saturday’s special election.

“The special election is giving Fuhsing residents time to reflect,” said candidate Chen Tzu Ying (陳子瀅), who is vying again to be the first woman to hold Fuhsing’s highest office, a role once held by her father Chen Hsiang-kan (陳祥乾). “I don’t use bribery. But whether bribery will prevail — that’s for residents to decide.”

In the aftermath of the Taoyuan District Court trial against newly minted district chief Fan Chen-hsing (范振興), leaving the beloved Atayal politician with bold ideas about indigenous autonomy sentenced to three years and nine months behind bars, a troubling picture has emerged about the rampant nature of vote-buying.

“It is clearly known that you can’t bribe — that there would be inspectors,” said Lin Hsin-i, the previous two-term Kuomintang mayor of Fuhsing who left office in December. “Why would you still do it?”

With sponsorship from the Ministry of Justice, which reported spending NT$10 million last year on an island-wide antibribery campaign, Lin organized community meetings last year in all 10 villages, according to Chang Ching-hui, Lin’s former secretary. “This is a big election for us,” Chang remembered petitioning villagers, “how about we clear our hearts?”

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Rushing to go nowhere, a Western pastime

22 Jun

The China Post

If you spend enough time in a foreign country, even the starkest cultural differences have a way of melting away like a bad mood in the summer sun. Sure, every country comes with a set of cultural tics that can be irksome to outsiders. Argentines really do arrive late or not at all to appointments, and it’s not personal somehow. And here on this island I’ve twice called home, random Taiwanese shop owners have a loving penchant for interrogating foreign strangers like in-laws, extracting marital status and salary range quicker than a credit-rating agency.

But living abroad isn’t only about the outward observations. The real gems are directed inwards when you consider how you’re perceived by local people. In Southeast Asia, I hear Western foreigners vent about being stared at and scrutinized. But the stares, I’ve found, are often fixed on the thing being done, more so than who’s doing it. Remembering this has brought about worthy self-examination as it did on my recent stroll through Taipei with a friend.

Read more here.

Life in prison: experts weigh Taiwan’s drug laws

27 May

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The dark legacy of Taiwan’s war on drugs is ever-rising drug use and desperately overcrowded prisons. While measures to ease the overflow of inmates get under way this year, experts are weighing the merits and costs of time-honored laws.

A life sentence, like the size of a galaxy, is hard to fathom, even for an inmate serving one. Paul Douglas, a middle child from a middle-class family raised in the middle-of-the-road town of Wokingham, England, pleaded guilty to trafficking 1.9 kilos of heroin out of Bangkok for US$4,000 in 2002.

“I made a very bad decision,” said Douglas, 45, who has struggled to find peace, watching his early 30s drift into his mid-40s in gray prison garb, serving life at Taipei Prison for a first-time offense.

His peculiar hobby — collecting news clippings of “bizarre” court verdicts he reads about in Taiwanese newspapers — has only confused his understanding of local justice.

“It makes no sense,” Douglas said, comparing his case — a life sentence for trafficking a grade-one narcotic — to a March story in The China Post about 13 military officers sentenced between three to eight months for their roles in an army conscript’s death. “What I ask is, does the punishment fit the crime?” Continue reading

Family of Zain Dean Victim Seeks Signs of Remorse

29 Jan

The China Post

When British fugitive Zain Dean fled Taiwan two years ago, Lin Su-guei fears that he took something she may never get back — a chance to find closure.

Read here: http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2014/01/30/399562/Family-of.htm

Dean extradition trial sparks human rights debate

9 Jan

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Seized fugitive Zain Dean, the British businessman who fled Taiwan to avoid a four-year sentence for a hit-and-run death in Taipei City, awaits a ruling by Edinburgh’s Sheriff Court to determine if he will be extradited to Taiwan.

Dean’s lawyer in the UK – backed by human rights activist Linda Gail Arrigo – argued in a two-day hearing ending yesterday that Dean suffered an unfair trial that was railroaded by tabloid media coverage and police corruption.

To many Taiwanese convinced of his guilt, this is a stinging rebuke to an island that prides itself as the first Chinese democracy since ending martial law in 1987, and whose popular uprisings, such as the 228 Massacre, were fathered by grassroots efforts to redress the courts.

“Taiwan’s judicial system is not on trial,” Shen Lyu-shun, Taiwan’s representative to the UK, told The China Post. “[Dean’s lawyer] can argue human rights, but we made it clear to all parties involved that he had a fair trial in Taiwan.”

What constitutes fairness in a trial, however, is a rather contentious issue to legal scholars in Taiwan, where fierce loyalties to schools of thought run deep. The young, modern courts reflect this polarization, dangerously caught between two antagonistic legal systems that may be compromising justice, according to Kao Jung-chih, executive director of the Justice Reform Foundation.

The architects of Taiwan’s modern judicial system, which lacks a jury system, drew inspiration from Japan and Germany, whose systems pit an interrogating judge against the defendant and witnesses. But in 2003, inspired by the so-called Hsichih trio, who were tortured into confessions, lawmakers passed a radical overhaul introducing a prosecutor-versus-defendant system used in the U.S., which limits the judge’s role while elevating due process and the rights of the accused.

Judges – who are selected by rote examination with no courtroom experience – are struggling under the new system, and teeter between their new and old roles, often creating an intrinsic bias, Kao said. “In Taiwan, most defendants have been assumed guilty until the defendants prove they are not.”

Out-of-touch judgments have recently earned justices the nickname “dinosaur judges.” Still, advocates are quick to remind that close-call verdicts aren’t always an indication of systemic flaws.

“The prosecution has the burden of proving guilt … beyond reasonable doubt,” said Yu-Jie Chen, a Taiwanese lawyer and researcher at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. But assessing what reasonable doubt means may be the “most difficult issue in criminal justice” – in any country.

Nevertheless, a movement is gaining steam to institute public participation in courtroom procedures. “If I had a jury to judge Dean’s case, Dean would be free – not guilty,” said Dean’s district court attorney Billy Chen, who has been accused of taking on Dean’s case pro bono as a soapbox for his anti-KMT reform agenda.

Read here: https://chinapost.nownews.com/20140110-79809

Bail denied, fugitive Dean claims credit for his capture

20 Dec

The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — In a bold swipe at the Ministry of Justice’s cross-border dragnet that claimed his capture, British fugitive Zain Taj Dean (林克穎), who was again denied bail Wednesday ahead of an extradition hearing in Scotland, says he knows the identity of the key informant that led to his arrest — himself.

Dean, who last summer fled a prison term in Taiwan claiming he was framed in a deadly DUI hit-and-run, said he disclosed his whereabouts to Taiwan’s representative office earlier this year as a bargaining chip for a retrial.

“I had told the Taipei authorities where I was by phoning the Taipei office in the UK with the intention of negotiating a return and fair trial,” Dean said in a statement relayed by human rights activist Linda Gail Arrigo, former wife of ex-DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德).

Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), Taipei’s representative to the UK, minced no words in his denial of the claim, dismissing it as a hollow bid for judicial leniency.

“He never told us where he was — never, ever, never, never,” said Shen, while confirming he did receive email correspondence from Dean which made no reference to his location.

The Ministry of Justice’s yearlong hunt for the on-the-lam British businessman — tracing him from Scotland to a Swiss hideout — culminated on Oct. 17, when he was arrested by Scottish authorities in Edinburgh, where he was renting an apartment under his own name.

A month-long delay in the disclosure of Dean’s capture, however baffling, offered a counterpoint to the chapter closing elsewhere. Dean’s compatriot accomplice, Christopher David Churcher, was escorted that day to the airport by immigration police, after his seven-month sentence for supplying the passport Dean used to slip incognito past customs was commuted.

Churcher did it purely in the name of justice, he said, but later pocketed a kickback.

In January, a Sheriff Court judge will consider whether the court judgments may have been marred by a lack of evidence, including street-camera footage from along the four-mile route where the accident took place. Dean claims it would have proven he was merely a valet-chauffeured passenger, asleep when Huang Jun-de, 32, was fatally struck while riding a scooter he had borrowed from his aunt.

Since brokering a memorandum of understanding with the UK, which allows the extradition request to proceed without an existing treaty, Minister of Justice Lo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) expressed optimism over Dean’s return that has been cautious elsewhere, even among firebrands that condemned the former CEO of NCL Media Taiwan.

“The Ministry of Justice is working hard,” said Taipei city councilman Lin Rui-tu (林瑞圖) to The China Post, “but the chances are low and my hopes aren’t very high.”

Lin suspects that Dean’s attorney may draw out the proceedings to invoke a discretionary “passage of time” clause under the UK-wide Extradition Act of 2003.

Read here: https://chinapost.nownews.com/20131220-81774

The Haunted House of Jersey City

1 Nov

To most Americans, a haunted house isn’t merely a Hollywood premise to a cinematic bloodbath. Tip-toeing with flashlights inside the local abandoned lot is a seminal part of a mischievous adolescence and a stage for amateur story-telling.

In a quiet corner of my old stomping grounds in Jersey City, a tall, redbrick Victorian home on Chestnut Street had grown rife with ghoulish tales over the years.

“There are rumors that a husband killed his whole family there,” said Nick Palma, a college student, passing by an infamous creaking gate. “One of the neighbors told me the husband was possessed by demons.”

Read more here