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Inmate's Sudden Execution Reignites Death Penalty Controversy in Taiwan

Cheng Chieh
Cheng Chieh
Taiwan’s former justice minister has stirred up controversy over the death penalty in Taiwan.

“There was nothing extraordinary about his life, because every person’s life is invaluable, and every soul has the same high significance.” Such were the words of Taiwan’s former Justice Minister Luo Ying-shay, after she approved the execution of death row inmate Cheng Chieh last month.

Uproar ensued.

Twenty-three at the time of his death, Cheng had gone on a stabbing spree on Taipei’s metro two years ago, taking four lives and injuring over 20. He was dubbed the “Monster of the Metro” by local media outlets including Apple Daily and the United Daily News, and showed little to no remorse in both interrogation and the trials that followed.

In late-April, he received a death sentence. Nineteen days later, he was dead. It was what Cheng had longed for: during interrogation, he informed prosecutors that he had set out to kill people so he would be given death penalty in return. “I wanted to commit suicide, but I’m afraid it would hurt too much.”

The crudeness of the excuse was not lost on the Taiwanese people, many of whom called for his death online.

A week before the new government stepped into office, the Ministry of Justice held a press conference, shortly after Luo decided to carry out Cheng’s death sentence at night.

His lawyer and family had not been notified, and Luo’s reasoning was that, “If we announced the execution beforehand, none of the death penalties would be carried out. Relevant people would only continue to seek retrials and extraordinary appeal.”

Luo’s reasoning was shocking: it sounded like the Justice Minister had created her own loophole in the judiciary system to defy the legal procedure every Taiwanese citizen is granted by law.

Luo ordered Cheng’s immediate death because, even behind bars, he posed as an “immense threat to the society’s stability and security,” and his death would serve as a reminder for those tempted to kill for the same reasons.

Despite Cheng’s unacceptable rationale for his actions and long history of demonstrating a love for violence (as shown on his blog and in conversations with classmates), many people in Taiwan also saw Luo’s sudden order to execute Cheng as an atrocity. Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi spoke to the media shortly after Cheng’s death, saying that, “We can not allow the government to decide if the need for procedural justice is essential under different circumstances.”

Inexcusable Abandonment of Due Process?

As brutal as the crime had been and as important as it was to remind the community that such actions would not be overlooked, Cheng deserves to be walked through the complete judiciary procedure with his legal team and his family deserves to be notified before his death.

How long should the government wait, from the moment when a death sentence is finalized until the actual execution? In Cheng’s case, the government has chosen the simplest and most “convenient” manner by which to end one of the most complex social issues existing, said Taiwanese lawmaker Tuan Yi-kang.

Tuan supports the abolition of Taiwan’s death penalty. Those who were against abolition were quick to blame the anti-death camp for several homicide cases that occurred in the two years following Cheng’s crime, saying that potential murderers are on the prowl because they knew the government does not take the death penalty seriously.

It may, of course, take many generations to accept the relatively newer concept of a judiciary system that forgoes the death penalty. It may take possibly even longer for this concept to be adopted and implemented; but, in the meantime, the government should look into Cheng’s case, hopefully turning this negative incident into a positive lesson for Taiwanese society.

Killing people on the metro is an act of violence and so are the gunshots that rang through the night Cheng died. The state is granted the right to carry out this specific type of violence because it is codified in the law – law that is solidified by social recognition. Nevertheless, this does not change the nature of the violence enacted by the state.

Luo has denied vehemently that Cheng’s life became a pawn in Taiwan’s most significant power exchange in history, but in the eyes of many, she has proven to the people that top government officials have no respect for the law or for a human life.

Source: The Diplomat, Katherine Wei, June 13, 2016

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