Dean extradition trial sparks Taiwan human rights debate
By Darren Tobia , The China Post
January 10, 2014, 11:57 pm TWN
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Seized fugitive Zain Dean, the British businessman who fled Taiwan to avoid a four-year sentence for a hit-and-run death in Taipei City, awaits a ruling by Edinburgh's Sheriff Court to determine if he will be extradited to Taiwan.
Dean's lawyer in the UK — backed by human rights activist Linda Gail Arrigo — argued in a two-day hearing ending yesterday that Dean suffered an unfair trial that was railroaded by tabloid media coverage and police corruption. To many Taiwanese convinced of his guilt, this is a stinging rebuke to an island that prides itself as the first Chinese democracy since ending martial law in 1987, and whose popular uprisings, such as the 228 Massacre, were fathered by grassroots efforts to redress the courts.
"Taiwan's judicial system is not on trial," Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), Taiwan's representative to the UK, told The China Post. "[Dean's lawyer] can argue human rights, but we made it clear to all parties involved that he had a fair trial in Taiwan."
What constitutes fairness in a trial, however, is a rather contentious issue to legal scholars in Taiwan, where fierce loyalties to schools of thought run deep. The young, modern courts reflect this polarization, dangerously caught between two antagonistic legal systems that may be compromising justice, according to Kao Jung-chih (高榮志), executive director of the Justice Reform Foundation.
The architects of Taiwan's modern judicial system, which lacks a jury system, drew inspiration from Japan and Germany, whose systems pit an interrogating judge against the defendant and witnesses. But in 2003, inspired by the so-called Hsichih (汐止) trio, who were tortured into confessions, lawmakers passed a radical overhaul introducing a prosecutor-versus-defendant system used in the U.S., which limits the judge's role while elevating due process and the rights of the accused.
Judges — who are selected by rote examination with no courtroom experience — are struggling under the new system, and teeter between their new and old roles, often creating an intrinsic bias, Kao said. "In Taiwan, most defendants have been assumed guilty until the defendants prove they are not."