There are currently 39 prisoners on death row in Taiwan. Yesterday’s execution of Weng Jen-hsien (翁仁賢) casts a serious doubt for the second time on Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s stated intention to bring an end to executions, with the goal being total abolition. The last execution under President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration, carried out in August 2018, had already broken the unofficial two-year moratorium that had appeared so hopeful since she had taken office in 2016. Prior to that, 33 executions had been carried out in Taiwan in the eight years of the previous Kuomintang administration.
On 1 April 2020, less than a year after he was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court, Weng, 53, was executed by a shot through the heart from behind. Weng had been convicted of the murder of six members of his family by setting fire to their home. According to the Taiwan Alliance Against the Death Penalty, medical assessments revealed that Weng was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and other psycho-social disabilities. The execution of an individual with mental disorder is a clear violation of a series of United Nations resolutions and standards which have been incorporated into Taiwan’s domestic laws. Those with psycho-social disabilities cannot, and must not, be subjected to the death penalty, let alone executed.
During President Tsai’s first term in office, we conducted two visits to Taiwan, together with Sir Keir Starmer QC MP. A consistent message conveyed by key ministers in the Executive Yuan and Ministry of Justice, reassured us that the policy of the government was to ensure that there would be an unofficial moratorium on executions so that the death penalty would be progressively restricted leading to its eventual abolition. The question was not whether, but how and when Taiwan would abolish the death penalty. The two executions in carried since 2018 call into question those stated commitments to end the death penalty.
Saul Lehrfreund, Co-executive director states:
Since President Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party took office in 2016, Taiwan has been leading the way as a beacon of democracy and human rights in East Asia. Weng’s execution again sends out a different message and signals that abolition of the death penalty is not a priority under President Tsai’s administration. A violation of the most fundamental right – the right to life – undermines many other progressive steps Taiwan has taken with regards to its human rights record. It also damages Taiwan’s international reputation as a country that respects human rights for all its citizens.
We strongly condemn the President’s decision not to grant a reprieve and to proceed with a second execution during her term of office. We urge the government of Taiwan to take immediate steps to impose an official moratorium on executions and to proceed towards the goal of total abolition of the death penalty.
Related articles and resources
- TAEDP withdraws from Ministry of Justice’s Taskforce to Research the Gradual Abolition of the Death Penalty, 3 April 2020
- Taiwan executes man who killed 6 relatives in arson attack, 1 April 2020