Ex-President of Taiwan Attempts Suicide in Prison
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: June 3, 2013
Chen Shui-bian, a former president of Taiwan who is serving a 20-year prison sentence for corruption, tried to kill himself on Sunday, the Ministry of Justice said in a statement.
Pool photo by Johnson Liu
Mr. Chen, 62, tried to commit suicide with a towel in a shower in Taichung Prison, but he was treated quickly and did not appear to have any “significant condition,” the statement said.
Mr. Chen, who served as president from 2000 to 2008, was convicted in 2009 on graft charges, including receiving $20 million in bribes and misusing public money. He was given a life sentence, which was later reduced on appeal. His wife, Wu Shu-chen, was also convicted of graft charges.
During his two terms in office, Mr. Chen supported independence from China, angering the Chinese government. China considers Taiwan, which has been autonomously governed since 1949, a part of its territory that must eventually be reunited.
Mr. Chen has called the charges against him and his wife a politically motivated effort by his opponents, including Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou, to punish him for his pro-independence views.
Mr. Chen resigned in 2008 from the Democratic Progressive Party, which he helped found, but recently sought to reapply for membership. After prison workers discovered his suicide attempt, Mr. Chen mentioned difficulties in rejoining the party and argued that his convictions were unjust, the Justice Ministry said in its statement.
Mr. Chen’s case was seen by many in Taiwan’s ruling party, the Kuomintang, as a sign of maturing democracy, with even a former top leader not immune from prosecution. But the Democratic Progressive Party has argued that it smacked of a vendetta, and reports of Mr. Chen’s deteriorating health have raised questions about the conditions of his detention.
Mr. Chen’s supporters say he suffers from several ailments, including atypical Parkinson’s disease, a heart condition and depression, and his family has demanded that he be granted medical parole. “This suicide attempt definitely puts pressure on Ma’s administration to release Chen,” said Lo Chih-cheng, a political science professor at Soochow University.
Mr. Ma said last year that he was not considering pardoning Mr. Chen, and that any decision for parole should be based on medical grounds, including whether Mr. Chen could receive suitable treatment in a prison hospital.
While Mr. Ma may not make any moves to speed Mr. Chen’s release, the renewed attention on the case will likely help the former leader, said Lin Feng-jeng, chief executive of the Judicial Reform Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to elevate legal standards. “I think this suicide attempt will get Chen more sympathy from the public and a more comfortable living environment while he serves out his sentence,” Mr. Lin said.
Antonio Chiang, a political columnist who served as a national security official under Mr. Chen, argues that the public is tiring of the former president’s story. “Now Chen’s news is in the newspapers every day — some are sympathetic, but more are simply annoyed, as they feel a disgraced politician and convicted criminal ought not to make such nonstop political moves,” Mr. Chiang said. “They feel that Chen is like a political ghost who refuses to die.”