ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

NOVEMBER 1, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 17

Facing the Firing Squad
An antiquated law puts three teens on Taiwan's death row, sparking calls for criminal justice reform
By ANTHONY SPAETH

A seven-year-old girl awakes one morning at her home in the Taipei suburb of Hsichih and finds blood stains outside the door of her parents' locked bedroom. Inside, Wu Ming-han and Yeh Ying-lan are dead, apparently stabbed with a knife from their own kitchen. Police investigate, and four men are eventually convicted of the murders. One is executed; three await the firing squad.

But eight-and-a-half years after the brutal double murder, the case is far from closed. The fate of the three remaining convicts has sparked an emotional debate about law in Taiwan, involving the courts, legislators, human rights groups and even President Lee Teng-hui, who is being asked to give amnesty to the three convicted murderers. Whatever he decides, many people have concluded that, in Taiwan, it's far too easy to end up on death row.

    ALSO IN TIME
Cover: The Vision Thing
Abdurrahman Wahid has trouble seeing and needs help walking, but 210 million Indonesians must now hope their new President can lead them out of the darkness

Numbers Game
Gus Dur's first task: fix a catatonic economy

Viewpoint
A voice of moderation in a strident land

Pakistan: It's Good to be Dictator
The military starts to enjoy the business of running things

Japan: Here Come the Pink Slips
The announcement of massive layoffs at Nissan heralds the start of a new era in the way the country does business

Taiwan: Facing the Firing Squad
An antiquated law puts three teens on Taiwan's death row, sparking calls for criminal justice reform

Malaysia: Lessons Never Learned
It's only a matter of time before Malaysia's economic boom goes bust

  RELATED STORIES
TIME
The Day Taiwan Crumbled
After a devastating quake, the island starts to pick up the pieces

CNN
Breaking news from East Asia

Taiwan quake devastates tourism industry

Taiwanese veterans demand Japanese wartime pay

ASIAWEEK
After the Dust has Settled
Taiwan's components industry is striving to put the earthquake behind it. The world's biggest computer sellers hope the job can be done fast

Five months after the Wus were murdered in March 1991, police tracked down a suspect using bloody fingerprints found at the crime scene. They arrested Wang Wen-hsiao, a 22-year-old marine, who confessed that he had burgled the family's home to pay off $1,100 in videogame gambling debts. According to his statement, Wang killed the couple after they discovered him in the act.

But police believed more than one weapon was used, and they interrogated Wang for three days more. He ultimately said three teenagers had also been involved: Su Chien-ho, Liu Ping-lang and Chuang Lin-hsun. They were rounded up and questioned--later they claimed to have been beaten--and finally confessed to helping murder the couple and gang-raping Mrs. Wu. At the trial, police produced coins taken from the boys' pockets, alleging they came from the robbery. Witnesses willing to testify that the teens were elsewhere on the night of the murder were not allowed to take the stand. All three were sentenced to death in 1992. Wang, the original convict, had been executed several months earlier.

Su, Liu and Chuang are now collectively known as the "Hsichih Three," and their cause has spurred petitions, newspaper editorials and protest rallies in their support. "I have been an attorney, and I know how to read a person's face," says Tsai Ming-hsien, who has sponsored a bill in the Legislative Yuan to release the men. "These three young kids did nothing wrong." Says Brian Kennedy, a board member of Amnesty International Taiwan and a former public defender in California: "It was the worst example of judicial incompetence I have ever seen."

The main concerns are whether the confessions were forced from the Hsichih Three (and, earlier, from Wang) and whether the courts were too hasty in finding them guilty. But the case has a uniquely Taiwanese angle. The three were convicted not on a simple murder charge but for violating a statute called The Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry. Imposed after the Nationalists regained Taiwan from the Japanese in 1945, the law was imported from the Chinese mainland, where the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) used it to keep control while they fought with Japanese troops. It proscribes murder, arson and rape, but also such activities as "organizing groups in the mountains or marshes in opposition to government authority." The act provides for a mandatory death penalty. Theoretically, someone who merely trespasses on a military base can be charged and, if found guilty, sentenced to death. It isn't a dormant statute: 257 people have been executed since the 1940s for Banditry Act violations. Eight were killed in the past month alone.

In today's democratic Taiwan, such a blunt approach to justice seems outdated to many. Legislator Hsieh Chi-ta has drafted a bill, soon to be introduced in the Legislative Yuan, that would repeal the Banditry Act. Conservative lawmakers, she fears, may not want to concede that the original law was heavy-handed or misused. "It will be extremely hard to admit this kind of major mistake," she says, "but we have to do it." Several laws giving basic legal protection to people under arrest were passed earlier this year.

The Hsichih Three have become national symbols of all these issues, and politicians from both the KMT and the opposition have appealed to President Lee to show clemency. In addition, the Control Yuan, the top watchdog agency for the government, has reprimanded the Justice Ministry and the police for their handling of the case, and the Prosecutor General's office has thrice applied for the convictions to be reviewed. The defendants themselves have appealed twice, losing in both the High Court and the Supreme Court.

The courts are united and holding firm, insisting justice has been done. President Lee could sign a pardon before he leaves office next May, but only at the risk of embarrassing the judiciary. The three condemned men, meanwhile, have not requested a pardon. That assumes guilt, they say, and they want their innocence recognized. For them, it's a matter of life or death. For their countrymen, the issue is only slightly less serious: whether justice in Taiwan will be distributed fairly--or with the heavy-handedness of yore.

Reported by Michael Kitchen/Taipei

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.