by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: James9052311/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS called on President Tsai Ing-wen to pardon Chiou Ho-shun, Taiwan’s longest-serving death row inmate, earlier this month. As part of this call, groups including the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty and Amnesty International presented a petition with 42,700 signatures to the Presidential Office, on the occasion of Chiou’s 63rd birthday.

This is, however, not the first year that such groups had called for Chiou to be pardoned by Tsai. Chiou has now spent 35 years in prison and, in theory, he could be executed at any given time with half an hour’s notice. Chiou has been on death row since 1989, having been imprisoned since he was 28 years old, with the Supreme Court rejecting his eleventh appeal in 2011. Chiou’s case is also the longest criminal case in ROC history.

That being said, four independent investigations by the Control Yuan have recommended that Chiou be pardoned, although such reports were also used by courts as pretext for further dragging their feet on the matter of Chiou’s imprisonment. Furthermore, Chiou would have been released in 2011 if he had pled guilty and received a reduced sentence, but he refused to do so.

The Asian Human Rights Court Simulation in 2019, run by former Justice of the Constitutional Court of Taiwan Hsu Yu-hsiu and the National Chiao Tung University’s Institute of Technology Law, found Chiou not guilty. Participants in the simulation included former Malaysian Court of Appeals judge Dato’ Mah Weng-Kwai, Thai judge Pawat Satayanurug, Tan Hsien-li of the National University of Singapore Law School, Taiwan Human Rights Journal editor-in-chief Mab Huang, and National Taiwan University law professor Chang Wen-chen. International Federation for Human Rights president Dimitris Christopoulos, too, has been among those to call for justice for Chiou.

In particular, Chiou’s many decades behind bars are because he was among twelve people accused of a female insurance agent named Ko-hung Yu-lan (柯洪玉蘭) in December 1987 and killed a nine-year-old boy named Lu Zheng (陸正) in September 1988. Ko-hung was robbed and murdered, while Lu was kidnapped with the aim of extorting a ransom from his parents.

Photo credit: 寺人孟子/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Nevertheless, evidence that Chiou committed the murders does not hold up, in that much of the evidence has gone missing. Ko-hung’s clothing and the murder weapon used to kill her have gone missing, while Ko’s decapitated head and limbs, as well as that Lu Zheng’s body was never found. Although the dead body of a child that could have been Lu Zheng was found in 1989, the body was quickly buried by police in a manner that makes genetic testing decades later difficult, possibly as a means of covering up the case. Eight of the twelve individuals facing charges related to the murder were minors at the time.

To this extent, an inmate sentenced to death in 2003 confessed to one of the murders, and records indicate that Chiou was renting a car in Miaoli when Lu Cheng was kidnapped in Hsinchu. The confession of guilt from Chiou is thought to have been extracted through torture, during which Chiou was shocked by electric batons, made to swallow pepper water, to sit on ice, blindfolded, and tied up.

In 2015, police officers who had been part of the case testified that they had tortured Chiou. It is thought that police carried out these actions because they were under pressure to quickly produce a suspect. But, in this respect, the use of torture by the police and unaccountable actions by police covering up the destruction of evidence is indicative of how the Chiou case is one that dates to authoritarian times.

It is unclear why there has not been further action on Chiou’s behalf. It is thought that the Taiwanese government may still be reluctant to confront the truth for a case that makes police look bad. Likewise, the use of capital punishment remains popular in Taiwan, with the Tsai administration accused by the KMT of failing to sufficiently use capital punishment and in this way encouraging violent crime, in that executions are not used as a deterrent for violent crime.

This may make the Tsai administration reluctant to pardon Chiou for fear of facing such criticisms, with anti-capital punishment groups sometimes facing waves of public backlash after incidents of violent crime. The Tsai administration itself has been accused of carrying out executions as a means of shoring up its popularity, as the Ma administration before it was also accused of doing.

No more articles