Taiwan Political Prisoner Report, January 4, 2013. Former ROC President Chen Shui-bian’s conditions of imprisonment, which broke his health and spirit, are indicative of Chen’s status as a political prisoner. The Republic of China in-exile has a penal system haunted by ghosts from decades of martial law when ideas of Taiwanese independence were punished by prison sentences.
Chen is now being held in a locked psychiatric cell at a government hospital in Taipei while he recovers from a list of medical and psychological problems incurred during his imprisonment.
Chen Shui-bian was held twenty-three hours per day in a tiny punishment cell, six feet by nine feet, with another prisoner at Taipei Prison. No flush toilet, no bed, no chair, no table. Chen was forced to live on the floor under 24-hour fluorescent lighting with a closed circuit television monitor aimed at the no-flush toilet.
Ironically, Chen was held in the same cellblock used for political prisoners during the martial law period. Little has changed in the cramped, primitive cells since the days of dictatorship except that the gray cement walls have now been wihitewashed with a bright white. One other difference is that the martial law prisoners had greater freedom of movement outside their cells than Chen has experienced.
Chen had about ten minutes of running water per day to rinse out the toilet and then shower in the toilet tub. His cell was often damp and became infested with ants on at least one occasion.
Chen and the other inmate were issued thin bedrolls to lay on when they slept. The other inmate was designated cell captain and allowed the longer of the floor space. Chen was forced to sleep on the floor with his head against the no-flush toilet, light brightly shining down from the ceiling.
The Taiwan Justice Rescue Force made a metal replica of Chen’s prison cell using bars instead of solid walls for the sides. The small cage was on display outside the Presidential Office at the temporary Democracy Camp on International Human Rights Day. Inside the replica cell, a calendar marked off the days of Chen’s close confinement counting out 1,480 days in jail.
The Washington, D.C. based Human Rights Action Center sent a team to visit Chen and review his prison conditions: “Chen Shui-bian's conditions of his four-year detention have contributed to both the worsening of pre-existing medical conditions and the creation of new medical needs. Simply put, Mr. Chen was treated badly in the prison system of Taiwan. How bad was it? The smallish cell did not allow him to stretch out while sleeping; he was confined in this cell over 23 hours a day; no bed, not desk, and no chair; a bright fluorescent light was on 24 hours a day so that a monitor could watch his every move even when he used the no-flush toilet hole.”
Chen Shui-bian’s medical complaints were long ignored, Chen was administered a psychiatric medication without his consent by prison doctors, and on orders from the prison warden Chen was forced-fed water by his “cell captain” when he was suspected of faking urinary blockage, one of Chen’s untreated conditions.
Despite the 24-hour bright lights, Chen was denied a clock or watch further upsetting his day-night equilibrium. Chen was denied the opportunity to work in the prison factory and get out of his tiny cell or mingle with other prisoners. Chen’s food was slipped through a small slot in the wall by the floor in plastic trays and he had to eat his meals on the floor where he lived and slept.
Chen Shui-bian has summed up his prison experience in one short sentence, “I have been treated cruelly.”