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Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in the Republic of China (Taiwan). Before 2000, Taiwan had a relatively high execution rate[1] when some strict laws were still in effect in the harsh political environment. However after some controversial cases during the 1990s plus former President Chen Shui-bian's attitude towards abolition, the number of executions dropped significantly since 1998, with only three executions in 2005 and none since 2006.


Capital offenses

Under military law

The Criminal Law of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法) of Taiwan rules the following crimes eligible for death penalty on military personnels:[2]:

  • Treason (Article 14, 15)
  • Collaboration (Article 17, 18)
  • Espionage (Article 19, 20)
  • Defection (Article 24)
  • Malfeasance (Article 26, 27)
  • Disclosure of intelligence or secrets (Article 31)
  • Desertion (Article 41, 42)
  • Disobeying orders (Article 47, 48)
  • Mutiny (Article 49, 50)
  • Hijacking (Article 53)
  • Destroying military supplies and equipment (Article 58)
  • Stealing and selling ammunition (Article 65)
  • Fabricating orders (Article 66)

Under civilian law

A sign at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport warns arriving travelers that drug trafficking is a capital offense in the Republic of China. (photo taken in 2005)

The Republic of China Criminal Code (zh:中華民國刑法) rules the following offenses eligible for death penalty, although none of them carries mandatory death penalty[3]:

  • Treason (Article 101)
  • Espionage (Article 103, 104, 105, 107)
  • Hijacking (Article 185-1)
  • Murder (Article 271, 272)
  • Robbery with murder, rape, or arson (Article 332)
  • Piracy (Article 333, 334)
  • Kidnapping (Article 347, 348)

Article 63 of the Criminal Code also rules that death penalty cannot be imposed on juvenile offenders aged under 18 or senile offenders aged above 80 for any offenses.

Other special laws which rule non-compulsory capital offenses:

Defunct laws

The following two laws gave certain offenses a mandatory death penalty. More than half of the executed 658 people mentioned earlier were killed according to these laws:

  • Act for the Control and Punishment of Rebellion (zh:懲治叛亂條例, rescinded in May 1991[7]) which imposed a mandatory death sentence on treason, espionage and defection. Enacted in 1949 when the Kuomintang just fled to Taiwan, this law was applicable to both military and common courts and played an important role during the white terror period. Related information about some people executed according to this law was not publicized because they were court-martialled. For example, Bo Yang and Shih Ming-teh were both sentenced to death by this law, however they were finally given life imprisonment due to worldwide political pressure during trial.
  • Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry (zh:懲治盜匪條例, rescinded in January 2002[8]) which ruled mandatory death penalty on kidnapping, piracy, or robbery along with murder, rape, or arson. Originally enacted as a short-term special law by the Kuomintang government during the Second Sino-Japanese War period, the law was extended for long time due to all sorts of accidental mishaps.

Execution process

A ROC judicial execution requires a final sentence from the Supreme Court of the Republic of China and a death order signed by the Minister of Justice. After the Supreme Court issues a final death sentence, the case is transferred to the Ministry of Justice, waiting for the Minister of Justice to issue a final secret execution date. Generally the Ministry of Justice will allow some time for the condemned person to meet his or her family, arrange religious activities, and even get married before the execution. Should any new evidence or procedural flaw which may influence the verdict be discovered during this period, the condemned prisoner may plea to the Ministry of Justice, which may then delay the death warrant, if or when the Solicitor General of Supreme Prosecutors' Office makes a special appeal to Supreme Court for retrial. However such cases are very rare: to date only one condemned prisoner avoided capital punishment in this manner.[9] The President of Republic of China can also award clemency, but so far only President Chiang Kai-Shek ever exercised this legal right on an individual prisoner once in 1957.[10] President Lee Teng-hui also ruled out two nationwide commutations in 1988[11] and 1991[12] in which two sentences were commuted from death to life imprisonment.

The death order from the Minister of Justice is received and performed by the High Prosecutors' offices so executions are carried out inside the detention centers of the five cities having a High Court: Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung and Hualien. Like Japan, Taiwanese death row inmates are kept in detention centers but not prisons, and are kept under harsher conditions than general prisoners. They are imprisoned 2 persons per cell (or sole imprisonment for misbehaving or very violent inmates), handcuffed and fettered all day long (although since late 2006 the Ministry of Justice is experimenting with unfettering death row inmates who behave themselves), only allowed to leave the cell half an hour a day for exercise, but are allowed to read censored newspapers and books as well as practice religious activities with permitted religious personnel.

Executions are carried out by handgun shooting aimed at the heart from the back, or aimed at the brain stem under the ear if the prisoner consents to organ donation. The execution time used to be 5AM, but was changed to 9PM in 1995 to reduce officials' workload. Executions are performed in secret: nobody is informed beforehand, including the condemned. Before the execution a last meal is served and the prisoner is prompted for any last words. The condemned prisoner is then injected with strong anaesthetic to leave him or her completely senseless, and the shooting quickly takes the prisoner's life. After execution the High Prosecutors' Office in charge will announce the execution in detail. Although the Ministry of Justice has studied other methods including hanging and lethal injection since the early 1990s, execution by shooting (performed by local bailiffs or military policemen) is the only execution method used in Taiwan to date (including military executions).

ROC military sentences and executions are administered only by the Ministry of National Defense and have no connection with the Ministry of Justice. Military sentences and executions are carried out in the military courts and prisons across the island as well as Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Unlike the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense does not compile detailed information concerning this issue so the real situation is unclear.

Execution statistics

ROC's Ministry of Justice annually publishes detailed statistics on this year's executions, including the executed person's name, age, sex, crime, nationality, education, etc. The detailed numbers of executions since 1987 are listed below[13][14]:

The Number of Executed People in Taiwan since 1987
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
10 22 69 78 59 35 18 17 16 22
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006~2009
38 32 24 17 10 9 7 3 3 0

The execution tally was at its height in late 1980s and early 1990s when the martial law was just lifted and the social order suddenly disintegrated. The strict Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry took many prisoners' lives at that time.

Among the executed were a small number from the People's Republic of China, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. They were executed in Taiwan for kidnapping, murder, or drug trafficking offenses [15][16][17].

Controversial death sentences

There are accounts in which the organs were retrieved from the executed prisoners while they were still medically alive.[18][19] Torture also exists in the investigation process, and seriously compromises the credibility of the verdicts.[20]

The Hsichih Trio case

In March 1991 a Hsichih couple Wu Ming-han (吳銘漢) and Yeh Ying-lan (葉盈蘭) were found robbed and brutally murdered inside their apartment. In August 1991 the police seized their neighbor Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝), a youngster who was then serving in the ROC Marines Corps, based on a Wang's bloody fingerprint found at the scene. Wang confessed to the murder after they discovered his housebreaking and burglary, but the police doubted how he alone could have killed two adults so easily and brutally. After torture Wang confessed another three 1972-born youngsters who lived in the same community, Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) and Liu Bin-lang (劉秉郎) as accomplices. These four young men further confessed they gang raped Yeh Ying-lan during their action, but the autopsy after murder did not check Yeh's genitals because her body was badly wounded and by the time they were seized, Yeh's body was already buried and decomposed.

Wang Wen-hsiao was court-martialed and speedily executed in January 1992. The other three defendants were prosecuted by the Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry which ruled compulsory death penalty for their crimes, if found guilty. During trial the defendants repeatedly claimed they were forced to make fake confessions under torture and they were not guilty, but the judges did not believe them.

In February 1995 the Supreme Court of the Republic of China condemned the defendants to death. Originally, the three would have been shot within short time, but then Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou refused to sign their death warrants and returned the whole case back to Supreme Court in hope of a retrial, due to shortcomings such as:

  • The only two pieces of evidence to prove the defendants' guilt was Wang Wen-hsiao's confessions and the NT$ 24 dollars found in Chuang Lin-hsun's home which was considered booty. The evidence was too weak: Wang Wen-hsiao was executed too early to witness the case, and NT$ 24 dollars was a tiny amount.
  • All four defendants claimed they have been tortured without lawyer present during police interrogation, but the judges did not investigate this point thoroughly. Wang Wen-hsiao's brother Wang Wen-chung (王文忠) even claimed Hsichih police originally asked his brother to confess as an accomplice, but he had refused.
  • There was no way to prove if Yeh Ying-lan was raped.

Between 1995 and 2000 Ma Ying-jeou and his 3 successors filed several retrial requests to the Supreme Court, but all of them were rejected. Meantime this case drew the attention of Amnesty International and was widely broadcast throughout the world, nicknamed as "the Hsichih Trio"[21].

After long time effort the Supreme Court finally ruled out a retrial on May 19, 2000, just one day before former President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration. In January 13, 2003 Taiwan High Court passed a verdict that they were not guilty and released them, but the victims' families were unwilling to accept this and kept on appealing. On June 29, 2007 the Taiwan High Court once again found the trio guilty and condemned them to death, but surprisingly did not put them into custody because "the 3 defendants are already worldwide famous and will be identified in any place", the first such case in the ROC history. The case remains unsettled.

Lu Cheng's case

Tainan native Lu Cheng (盧正), an unemployed former policeman, was charged with the kidnapping and murder of a local woman Chan Chun-tzu(詹春子) who along with her husband were both Lu's high school classmates in December 1997. The Supreme Court of the Republic of China condemned Lu to death in June 2000 but Lu's family pointed out several suspicious points[22]:

  • Like the Hsichih Trio, Lu Cheng was tortured by police for a long period and was forced to provide fake confessions.
  • The judges intentionally ignored an apparent alibi that Lu Cheng was together with his juvenile niece at the exact time of the murder.
  • The real kidnapper phoned the victim's husband during the crime. If Lu Cheng had committed the kidnapping, the victim's husband should have been able to identify Lu's voice.
  • The verdict stated that the victim was strangled to death by Lu Cheng's shoelaces. However the autopsy showed the victim's strangulation burn did not match Lu's shoelaces.

Despite these suspicious points, then Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan still gave order to Lu Cheng's execution on September 7, 2000, just one day before that year's Mid-Autumn Festival. It was rumored that Lu Cheng remained sober after receiving five anesthetic injections at 3AM so the officials had to shoot him while he was conscious, and his eyes remained opened after his death, a sign of injustice according to Chinese tradition. Lu Cheng's family kept on protesting but there has been no concrete official response to date.

Former President Chen Shui-bian's policy towards abolishing death penalty

These controversial cases apparently influenced the local judicial system. Chen Ding-nan publicly announced his intention to abolish the death penalty in May 2001[23] and his views were further backed by President Chen Shui-bian[24][25]. Although the right to abolish death penalty is held on the Legislative Yuan which is dominated by the opposing Pan-blue coalition, as well as being more conservative on this issue, the Democratic Progressive Party government informally gave a moratorium by not signing death warrants except for serious and noncontroversial significant cases. As a result, the number of executions have dropped significantly since 2002. In an October 2006 interview, Chen Ding-nan's successor Shih Mao-lin (施茂林) said he would not sign any death warrant for the 19 defendants who were already condemned to death by Supreme Court in near future, because their cases were still being reviewed inside the Ministry[26]. These conditions may remain in effect until Chen Shui-bian's tenure expires on May 20, 2008.


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