Rights group urges release of Chen Shui-bian from prison

Open letter to President Ma Ying-jeou says his predecessor is ill, and should not have to serve the rest of an 18-year prison sentence

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 February, 2013, 5:38am

A US-based human-rights group expressed grave concerns on Wednesday over the reportedly deteriorating health of Taiwan's former president, Chen Shui-bian, who is serving an 18-year sentence for corruption.

In an open letter to Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, the president of the Formosan Association for Human Rights urged the island's leader to release Chen, who is being treated at a top-tier hospital in Taipei for various ailments.

"We sincerely ask that Taiwanese leader Ma … review the judicial cases and various health problems of former president Chen Shui-bian" to facilitate Chen's release, David Hung said.

We sincerely ask that Taiwanese leader Ma … review the judicial cases and various health problems of former president Chen Shui-bian

The former leader was removed from his prison cell in September and transferred to Veterans General Hospital, which said it was treating him for clinical depression, sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease. Prison officials said he had exhibited suicidal tendencies, by fasting twice and slamming his head against the window of a bus taking him to a court hearing.

The open letter was one of the many statements that have been made by local and overseas groups, including US lawmakers, seeking Chen's release on health grounds. The demands for his release or amnesty have grown louder since a video surfaced online two weeks ago showing Chen looking extremely weary and thin and stumbling awkwardly in the hospital.

Former vice-president Annette Lu Hsiu-lien, who served under Chen from 2000 to 2008, called for him to be released and put under house arrest. She also launched a postcard campaign to pressure Ma to free Chen.

She said that disease and 1,500 days in detention had taken their toll on Chen, and that he might die if not sent home.

Chen Chiao-chi, a psychiatrist on the former president's medical team, who was asked by Chen's family to help diagnose him, said the former leader had suffered a mental breakdown and brain damage, and that he was suffering from sleep apnea, severe depression and paranoid delusions of persecution.

The psychiatrist recommended that Chen be sent home to recover with his family. "Sending him back to prison would worsen his mental illness and eventually kill him," the doctor said.

The hospital, however, said there were no signs that the ex-president had suffered a mental breakdown or was battling life-threatening diseases. It said the ex-president had received treatment for problems such as clinical depression and heart disease.

Ma has repeatedly rejected demands for Chen's release, on the grounds that he is still the subject of corruption proceedings.