Annette Lu, former Vice President of the Republic of China in-exile on Taiwan, announced the start of a hunger strike for imprisoned former President Chen Shui-bian. Incumbent ROC President Ma Ying-jeou issued a statement urging Lu to “take good care of herself.” Chen, the ROC president from 2000-2008, was imprisoned shortly after leaving office for alleged corruption.
Chen Shui-bian was convicted following a controversial trial and given a lengthy prison sentence. Confinement in a tiny punishment cell without any furniture or flush toilet and subjected to harsh 24-hour lighting broke Chen’s physical and mental health. Chen, who suffers from deep depression and life threatening sleep apnea, has developed an unknown degenerative neurological disease that has left him with an impaired memory, constant hand tremors, an unsteady gait and incontinence. Chen has been recommended for medical parole by the government doctors treating him but Ma Ying-jeou is determined to see his political foe remain behind bars.
After his arrest, most of Chen’s political supporters abandoned him over the corruption allegations. However, public opinion has shifted as details emerged about Chen’s controversial trial which featured midnight court sessions, with strict limits on courtroom observers, perjury by the prosecution’s chief witness, no jury, changed judges, politically influenced prosecutors, and courtroom heckling of Chen.
Ma’s motive in keeping the ill Chen in prison may well be more than a personal vendetta as Chen has increasingly become the personification of Taiwan itself, ruled by a Chinese regime imposed on the island after World War II by the United States.
Ma, who was not born in Taiwan, has vigorously sought to move Taiwan into the orbit of the People’s Republic of China which has threatened to invade the island. Chen, through his suffering, has become a martyr for Taiwan independence and has regained public popularity according to opinion polls.
Annette Lu and Chen both survived an election eve assassination attempt in 2004 and her tear-filled announcement of the hunger strike has gained the support of many opposition leaders. Former Defense Secretary David Tsai joined Lu at her announcement as did Democratic Progressive Party leader Joseph Wu.
Lu listed her reasons for undertaking the hunger strike. Lu said that Chen did not receive a fair trial. The trial process was rigged with apparent political manipulations and improper judicial processes. Lu also said Chen had suffered inhuman treatment in his four years at Taipei Prison, in violation of UN and international human rights standards.
Lu said the refusal to grant medical parole is illegal. This refusal and well documented medical neglects have caused irreversible damages to Chen’s health. Chen’s life is now in immediate and clear danger after over six years of imprisonment. The tragedy has deepened the societal divide and political conflicts in Taiwan, which can only be healed by granting Chen’s freedom.
“I hearby call on Ma to let go of the hate that he harbors and let Chen Shui-bain to home,” said Lu.
The self-proclaimed anti-corruption stance by Ma is now proven false according to Lu. For the past six years, Ma and many of his close advisors and staff members have been under investigation or charged with many gross corruption activities. Lu said Ma should step down immediately.
Taiwan’s international political status remains unresolved over six decades after World War II. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared in 2009 that the Taiwanese people were trapped by the United States in “political purgatory” because of foreign policy issues. Chen Shui-bian’s case shows just how close to the inferno that purgatory has become.