Capital punishment in Taiwan

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in Taiwan. The death penalty can be imposed for murder, treason, drug trafficking, terrorism and especially serious cases of robbery, rape and kidnapping and many other serious offenses, such as piracy and also for military offences, such as desertion.

Before 2000, Taiwan had a relatively high execution rate when strict laws were still in effect in the harsh political environment.[1] However, after controversial cases during the 1990s and the changing attitudes of some officials towards abolition, the number of executions dropped significantly, with only three in 2005 and none between 2006 and 2009. Executions resumed in 2010. According to the poll numbers, more than 80% of Taiwanese people support maintaining the use of capital punishment.[2]

Capital offensesEdit

Under military lawEdit

The Criminal Law of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法) rules the following crimes eligible for the death penalty on military personnel:[3]

  • 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 lawEdit

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 that the following offenses are eligible for the death penalty :[4]

  • Civil disturbance as ringleader (Article 101)
  • Treason (Article 103, 104, 105, 107)
  • Abandoning territory in charge (Article 120)
  • Hijacking (Article 185-1, 185-2)
  • Sexual Offenses with murder (Article 226-1)
  • Civil servant forcing others to cultivate, sell or transport poppy plants to manufacture opium or morphine (Article 261)
  • Murder (Article 271, 272)
  • Robbery with homicide, severe injury, rape, kidnapping or arson (Article 328, 332)
  • Piracy (Article 333, 334)
  • Kidnapping with homicide, severe injury or rape (Article 347, 348)

Article 63 of the Criminal Code also rules that the death penalty cannot be imposed on offenders aged under 18 or above 80 for any offenses. The death penalty in Taiwan is not handed down as a mandatory punishment, as it is only handed down as a discretionary punishment after the sentencing court decides all of the necessary factors of each case.

Other special laws which rule non-compulsory capital offenses:

  • Civil Aviation Act [5]
    • Hijacking
    • Endangering flight safety or aviation facilities by force and causing death
    • Using unapproved aviation products, appliances and parts to cause death
  • Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act [6]
  • Punishment Act for Violation to Military Service System [9]
    • Carrying weapons by group, obstructing a military service and causing death
    • Carrying weapons by group, fighting publicly against a military service and
      • Caused death or
      • Is the ringleader
  • Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act [10]
    • Committing and purposely killing the victim of
      • Making a person under 18 engage in sexual transaction by violence, menace, medicament, control, hypnogenesis or other ways against the will of himself/herself
      • Intending to making a person under 18 engage in sexual transaction, and to deliver or accept him/her to or from other person by dealing, impawning or other ways and by violence, menace, medicament, control, hypnogenesis or other ways against the will of himself/herself
  • Punishment Act for Genocide [11]
    • Intending to commit genocide and committing any of the following
      • Murder
      • Serious injury, physically or mentally
      • Impairing fertility
      • Abducting Children
      • Other ways sufficient to elimination the group
  • Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act [12]
  • Act for the Control and Punishment of Smuggling [13]
    • Smuggling, resisting arrest or inspection with weapon and caused death

In practice, since 2003, almost all death sentences and executions have been restricted to murder-related offenses. The last execution solely for crimes other than homicide took place in October 2002 in the case of a Pingtung County fisherman who trafficked 295 kg heroin in 1993.[14]

Defunct lawsEdit

The following two laws previously gave certain offenses a mandatory death penalty and have historically made a significant contribution to the numbers of people executed:

  • Betrayers Punishment Act (zh:懲治叛亂條例, rescinded in May 1991[15]) which imposed a mandatory death sentence on treason, espionage and defection. Enacted in 1949 when the Central Government had just retreated to Taiwan, this law was applicable in both military and common courts and played an important role during the white terror period. Information about people sentenced according to this law was restricted because they counted as court-martials. In two high-profile cases, Bo Yang and Shih Ming-teh were both sentenced to death under this law, but were finally given life imprisonment due to worldwide political pressure during their trials.
  • Robbery Punishment Act (zh:懲治盜匪條例, rescinded in January 2002[16]) which ruled a mandatory death penalty on kidnapping, piracy or robbery along with murder, rape and 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 a long time for a variety of reasons.[citation needed]

Execution processEdit

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, where the Minister of Justice issues 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 for any religious rites and even get married before the execution.[citation needed] Should any new evidence or procedural flaw that may influence the verdict be discovered during this period, the condemned prisoner may make a plea to the Ministry of Justice. This may then delay the death warrant, if the Solicitor General or Supreme Prosecutors' Office makes a special appeal to the Supreme Court for retrial. However, such cases are very rare: to date only one condemned prisoner avoided capital punishment in this manner.[17] 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.[18] President Lee Teng-hui also ordered two nationwide commutations in 1988[19] and 1991[20] 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, ROC death row inmates are kept in detention centers but not prisons, and under harsher conditions than general prisoners. They are housed two inmates to a cell (or solitary imprisonment in cases of misbehavior or violence). The practice of shackling prisoners 24 hours a day has been reported to be no longer in effect, but prisoners on death row are only allowed to leave the cell for a half-hour a day for exercise.[21] Prisoners are allowed to read censored newspapers and books as well as practice religious activities with approved religious personnel.[citation needed]

Executions are carried out by shooting using a handgun aimed at the heart from the back, or aimed at the brain stem under the ear if the prisoner consents to organ donation.[21] The execution time used to be 5:00 a.m., but was changed to 9:00 p.m. in 1995 to reduce officials' workload. It was changed again to 7:30 p.m. in 2010.[22] Executions are performed in secret: nobody is informed beforehand, including the condemned. The execution chamber is located in the prison complex. The condemned is brought to the chamber by car and pays respect to the statue of Ksitigarbha located outside the chamber before entering. Before the execution, the prisoner is brought to a special court next to the execution chamber to have his or her identity confirmed and any last words recorded. The prisoner is then brought to the execution chamber and served a last meal (which includes a bottle of kaoliang wine).[22] The condemned prisoner is then injected with strong anaesthetic to render him or her completely senseless, laid flat on the ground, face down, and shot. The executioner then burns votive bank notes for the deceased before carrying away the corpse.[22] It is customary for the condemned to place a NT$500 or 1000 banknote in their leg irons as a tip for the executioners.[22]

After the execution, the High Prosecutors' Office will issue the official announcement of the execution. Although the Ministry of Justice has studied other methods including hanging and lethal injection since the early 1990s,[citation needed] execution by shooting (performed by local bailiffs or military policemen) is the only execution method used in the ROC currently (including military executions).[citation needed]

ROC military sentences and executions are administered only by the Ministry of National Defense and have no connection with the Ministry of Justice.[citation needed] Military sentences and executions are carried out in military courts and prisons across the island as well as Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.[citation needed] Unlike the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense does not release detailed information on executions, and so little information is available.

Execution statisticsEdit

The ROC's Ministry of Justice annually publishes detailed statistics on each year's executions, including the executed person's name, age, sex, crime, nationality, education, etc. The numbers of executions since 1987 are listed below:[23][24]

The Number of Executed People in Taiwan since 1987
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
10 22 69 78 59 35 18 17 16 22 38 32 24 17
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
10 9 7 3 3 0 0 0 0 4 5 6 6 5 6 1 0 1 0 1

The execution tally was at its height in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the martial law had just been lifted and social order was destabilized. The strict Act for the Control and Punishment of Banditry resulted in the execution of many prisoners.

Among the executed were a small number of foreign nationals from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. They were executed in Taiwan for kidnapping, murder or drug trafficking offenses.[25][26]

Controversial death sentencesEdit

Organ transplantationEdit

There are accounts of organs being removed from executed prisoners while they were still medically alive.[27]

According to the Death Penalty Procedural Rules (執行死刑規則) of Taiwan, executees who are willing to donate their organs are shot in the head. Twenty minutes after the execution, an examination is conducted to verify the death of the condemned person. Prisoners donating organs are sent to hospitals for organ collection after completion of the execution is confirmed.[28][29]

According to the Human Organ Transplantation Act (人體器官移植條例) of Taiwan, an organ donor can only donate after being judged brain-dead by a medical doctor. When a ventilator is in use, there must be an observation period of 12 hours for the first evaluation and a four-hour period for the second evaluation to reach a judgement of brain death.

In Taiwan, there have been cases of executees being sent to hospitals for organ collection without legal confirmation of brain death, leading to accusations that human vivisection for organ collection and transplantation is in practice in Taiwan. There was a case in 1991 in which an executee was found to be still breathing unaided when being prepared for organ collection in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital. The executee was sent back to the execution ground to complete the execution. This case caused the Taipei Veterans General Hospital to refuse organ collection of executees for eight years.[30]

In 2015, Taiwan banned the use of organs from executed prisoners.[31]

The Hsichih Trio caseEdit

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 police arrested their neighbor Wang Wen-hsiao (王文孝), then serving in the ROC Marine Corps, based on Wang's bloody fingerprint found at the scene. He confessed to the murder after investigators discovered evidence of him breaking in and burglarizing the house, but police doubted he could have killed two adults so easily and brutally without help. Under torture, Wang confessed to help from three accomplices 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).[32] These four young men further confessed that they gang raped Yeh Ying-lan during their break-in, but the autopsy of Yeh's body showed no traces of sexual assault.[33]

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

In February 1995, the Supreme Court of the Republic of China found against the defendants. According to procedure, the three should then have been executed by shooting as soon as possible, but Minister of Justice Ma Ying-jeou refused to sign their death warrants and returned the whole case back to the Supreme Court in hope of a retrial, citing shortcomings such as:

  • Only two pieces of evidence were brought against the defendants: Wang Wen-hsiao's confessions and the NT$ 24 dollars (less than $1.00 US) found in Chuang Lin-hsun's home and considered to be booty. The evidence was too weak: Wang Wen-hsiao was executed too early to witness the case and NT$24 was a tiny amount.[34]
  • Although all four defendants claimed they were tortured during police interrogation, at which there was no lawyer present, 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 proof that Yeh Ying-lan was raped.

Between 1995 and 2000, Ma Ying-jeou and his three successors filed several retrial requests with the Supreme Court, but all were rejected. Meantime, this case drew the attention of Amnesty International and was widely broadcast throughout the world, nicknamed as "the Hsichih Trio".[35]

The Supreme Court ordered a retrial on May 19, 2000, just one day before former President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration. On January 13, 2003, the Taiwan High Court passed a verdict that they were not guilty and released them, but the victims' families were unwilling to accept this and appealed.[36] 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 in custody[36] because "the 3 defendants are already famous worldwide and will be identified in any place", the first such case in the ROC history. On Nov 12, 2010, the Taiwan High Court delivered another verdict, revoking the previous decision and finding the three not guilty, "as there was no proof for the crime they were accused of."[37] The prosecutor appealed again, and the Supreme Court ordered yet another retrial on Apr. 21, 2011. On Aug. 31, 2012, the High Court reaffirmed the innocence of the three defendants. According to criminal procedure legislation that came into effect in 2010, when court proceedings have begun on a criminal case more than six years previously, and the Supreme Court had ordered more than three retrials, if the High Court has already found the defendants to be not guilty twice and decided not guilty again in the third trial, the prosecutor may no longer appeal.[38] The High Court delivered the first not guilty verdict in 2003, and again in 2010. With the 2012 verdict, the Hsichih trio meets the condition of the new criminal legislation, and the case is concluded.[39]

Lu Cheng's caseEdit

In December 1997, 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 former high school classmates of Lu's. The Supreme Court of the Republic of China sentenced Lu to death in June 2000 but his family noted several suspicious points:[40]

  • As with the Hsichih Trio, Lu Cheng had been tortured by police and was forced into making a confession.
  • The judges intentionally ignored his alibi that he had been with his young niece at the time of the murder.
  • The 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 his voice.
  • The verdict stated that Lu Cheng had used his shoelaces to strangle the victim. However, the autopsy showed the victim's strangulation burns did not match Lu's shoelaces.

Despite these suspicious points, Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan ordered 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 conscious after receiving five anesthetic injections at 3:00 a.m., so the officials had to shoot him while he was conscious and his eyes remained opened after his death. Lu Cheng's family continues to protest but there has been no concrete official response to date.

Chiang Kuo-ching's caseEdit

President Ma Ying-jeou and the Ministry of National Defense have made a public apology to the family of former Air Force Pvt. Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) for his wrongful execution in 1997.[41] Chiang was arrested for the September 12, 1996, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl known only by the surname of Hsieh.[42] He was tortured into making a false confession by military counterintelligence.

After reopening the case, investigators arrested Hsu Jung-chou, on 28 January 2011. Hsu then confessed to the crime, thereby posthumously exonerating Chiang. Chiang's family later received NT$103 million (equivalent to US$3.45 million) in compensation for the wrongful execution.[43] In December 2011, Hsu was convicted of the murder of Hsieh and sentenced to 18 years in prison.[42] However, Hsu appealed his conviction. In early April 2013, the Taiwan High Court determined that Hsu was not guilty of the crime after all, and he was released from prison immediately. The court found that Hsu was mentally challenged and could not write, operating on the emotional and intellectual level of a child between the ages of nine and 12 years old, and that he had made seven confessions that were all contradicted by physical evidence and official autopsy findings. Moreover, his confessions had been written by a member of the military who refused to testify in person during Hsu's rehearing.[42] The Taipei District Prosecutors' Office announced that once they read the ruling, they would determine if it was appropriate to appeal the acquittal to the Supreme Court,[42] but as of August 2020, there have been no further legal developments in the case. The identity of the real murderer remains unknown.

The officials who handled the original investigation that led to Chiang's execution were protected from prosecution by the statute of limitations for public employees.[44] However, many of the officers and civilians who had received awards for presumably solving the case had those awards revoked.[43]

Religious attitudesEdit


Taiwan's major Buddhist authorities hold diverse interpretations of what can be considered a "Buddhist perspective" to capital punishment:

  • Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order holds that the abolishment of capital punishment "is not necessary", and that it corresponds to the laws of cause and effect in Buddhism.[45]
  • Master Sheng Yen, founder of the Dharma Drum Mountain, said: "Now, should capital punishment be abolished? As a Dharma master, of course I hope it will be abolished". He taught that there are no unchangingly bad people, and all sentient beings can become Buddhas. He argued that abolishing capital punishment should take two paths: legally decrease the number of death sentences, and promote religious education so as to prevent crime.[46]
  • Tzu Chi Buddhist Master and Hsuan Chuang University College of Social Sciences Dean Shih Chao-hui (釋昭慧) has written:

...the Buddha has stated very clearly that 'no killing' is the first rule of the five basic moral ethics (the Five Precepts). It is absolutely impossible for Buddha to speak favorably of 'solving problems through killing'. Killings will only lead to more is not necessary for the victims and their family members to take revenge personally,and no third parties are needed to join into the network of killing. Their own karma will not let them run away.[47]

Political attitudesEdit

The Kuomintang, New Party and People First Party strongly support the use of capital punishment.

The Democratic Progressive Party has both proponents and opponents of capital punishment, however the platform of the DPP state that they are discussing possibility of abolition of capital punishment.

Generally, the New Power Party and the Green Party Taiwan are in favour of abolition of capital punishment.

During the Republic of China (Taiwan) 9-13 July 2002 state visit to the United States of America, Attorney General of the United States of America John Ashcroft announced that the Taiwanese Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan had made a policy statement of moving towards abolishing the death penalty using a phased approach.[48]

Temporary Moratorium between 2006 and 2009Edit

These controversial cases apparently influenced the local judicial system.

After being elected in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian, announced that he supported abolition of capital punishment in Taiwan.[49] In 2001, Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan called for the abolition of capital punishment within the Chen's first term, but said that "only when the public accepts abolition" would the government bring forward the necessary legislation. Although the death penalty was not abolished during that period, the Justice Ministry released a position statement in 2004 ("The Policy of the Ministry of Justice of Taiwan with Regard to Abolition to Abolition of the Death Penalty") which envisioned a national dialogue toward the formation of "a popular consensus for abolition" followed by abolition.[49] Under Chen, there was a major decline in capital punishment in Taiwan.[49]

Although the right to abolish death penalty is held by the Legislative Yuan which is currently dominated by the opposing Pan-blue coalition, as well as being more conservative on this issue, the Democratic Progressive Party government forced a moratorium by not signing death warrants except for serious and noncontroversial cases. As a result, the number of executions dropped significantly from 2002. In an October 2006 interview, Chen Ding-nan's successor Shih Mao-lin (施茂林) said he would not sign any death warrants for the 19 defendants who had already been sentenced to death by the Supreme Court, because their cases were still being reviewed inside the Ministry.[50] These conditions remained in effect until Chen Shui-bian's tenure expired on May 20, 2008.

In May 2008, Chen Shui-bian's successor Ma Ying-jeou nominated Wang Ching-feng as the Minister of Justice. Wang opposed capital punishment and delayed every case delivered to the Minister's Office. Until March 2010, a total of 44 prisoners given death sentences by the Supreme Court were detained by the Ministry but Wang still publicly announced her strong opposition to capital punishment during media interviews. This caused controversy and the consensus suddenly broke after entertainer Pai Bing-bing (whose daughter Pai Hsiao-yen was kidnapped and murdered in 1997) held a high-profile protest against Wang. Wang, who originally refused to step down, bowed to social pressure and resigned on March 11, 2010.[51] Wang's successor Tseng Yung-Fu (曾勇夫) promised premier Wu Den-yih that he would resume executions.[52]

Execution ResumedEdit

On April 30, 2010, Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu ordered 4 executions, ending the four-year moratorium.[53][54] As of April 2, 2020, 35 executions have been carried out.Template:Since?[citation needed] Weng Jen-hsien [zh] (Chinese: 翁仁賢; pinyin: Wēng Rénxián) was executed on Wednesday April 1, 2020.[55]

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit