Over-Powerful Government Pursues Judges and Elected Representatives
United Daily News Editorial, September 7, 2020
Recently, the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has taken two rare and consecutive judicial actions to pursue judges and city councilors. First, after the Justices of the Constitutional Court, Judicial Yuan, made the interpretation that the Act Governing the Settlement of Ill-Gotten Party Assets (Party Assets Act) was constitutional, the Ill-Gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee (Party Assets Committee) followed suit by asking the seven judges of the Taipei High Administrative Court who had applied for the constitutional interpretation to recuse themselves from nine court cases they were trying.
Second, Kuomintang (KMT) Tainan City councilors Wang Chia-chen and Lee Chung-tsen held a press conference questioning the appearance of forged triple stimulus vouchers, and the Tainan police referred them to the court. Thereafter, the Tainan court ruled not to punish the councilors, but the Tainan police was ordered to file an appeal. The political purpose of the above two cases is above the judicial meaning.
While pursuit of judges by the Party Assets Committee and the actions by the Tainan police to pursue the city councilors are different in nature and the applicable laws are different, they vividly demonstrate the Tsai administration’s style of a “new authoritarian rule.”
First, on the pursuit of city councilors by the Tainan police. In the past two years, the Tsai administration, in the name of cracking down fake news, continued to abuse the Social Order Maintenance Act to suppress freedom of speech, but in the end, in about 80 percent of the cases, either the prosecutors decided not to prosecute or the courts ruled not to punish. It is clear that the purpose of the ineffective waste of police and judicial resources was to create the chilling effect and not in the spirit of law. When the councilors questioned the forgeries of the vouchers, they were deemed spreading rumors and were investigated. Afterwards, the police did find a group that forged vouchers, so the questioning by the councilors was not groundless, and the court ruled not to punish them. But the Executive Yuan, by the excuse of “continuing to clarify legal issues,” supported the police to file appeal under order; this has become a fight of saving face.
If councilors were referred to court without reason when they were performing their duties, it was the Tsai administraiton’s tactics of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey,” after the court had ruled not to punish, the Tsai administration has lost its face and filed an appeal to continue pursuing the councilors, then the Tsai administration not only rules the country by cold and litigious officials, but also thinks it can command judges and instruct them how to write court rulings. Despite the fact that judges and prosecutors throughout Taiwan have overturned Tsai administration’s abuse of cracking down the fake news, the Executive Yuan still asked the court to clarify legal issues, this further shows the mentality of the Tsai administration and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to distain judges and to act above the law.
As to the demand by the Party Assets Committee that the judges who applied for the constitutional interpretation recuse themselves, this further demonstrates the Tsai administration’s mentality to distain judges and to act above the law. In fact, the judges thought the enactment of the Party Assets Act may have violated and confused normal legal principles, so they applied for constitutional interpretation. No matter what the result is, it does not constitute the cause of recusal and cannot mean that the judges are biased. The Party Assets Committee clearly knew that their application for recusal would be denied but it still did so to revenge on the judges and create political pressure. Isn’t this the mentality to distain judges and to act above the law?
While many judges in different cases thought the Party Assets Act and the Party Assets Committee may violate the constitution, their intention originated from their common belief in the rule of law and was not coincidental. The Party Assets Committee, instead of reviewing its own actions of breaking the constitution, infringing on the judicial process, taking people’s properties, and abridging the right of association, to the contrary, the Committee attempted to crack down the judges by denying their qualifications to try cases. In fact, those grand justices themselves or their spouses who had directly involved in the enactment of the Party Assets Act and later turned to interpret the Act was constitutional should have recused themselves. Those grand justices who acted as ball players and umpires simultaneously needed not to recuse, but the lower-level judges must recuse, what kind of the spirit of rule of law is it?
Of course, it is not an exceptional case that the Tsai administration has distained judges and acted above the law, and it does not begin today. If the president could summon a grand justice to her official residence to scold him, then when Chen Shih-meng, a former member of the Control Yuan, pursued lower-level judges, it was not strange that no comments came from the presidential office, the Executive Yuan, or the DPP. As to those pro-DPP Control Yuan members who cooperated with Chen Shih-meng to suppress prosecutors and interfered in judicial process, even after their actions were exposed, they were still re-nominated and re-appointed to the new Control Yuan. It is not difficult to imagine how bad is Taiwan’s atmosphere of the rule of law. The atmosphere includes the pursuit of councilors by the Executive Yuan, the demand that the court continue clarifying legal issues, and the Party Assets Committee’s groundless demand of the judges to recuse; all of these are performances by following political orders.
When the president of the Judicial Yuan abandoned his belief in “good law-making,” when judges were maliciously attacked by the Party Assets Committee, and when councilors were pursued by the police who were ordered to do so, these are the signs of degradation of any democratic country. When grand justices were willing to act as servants of power, when the guardians of constitution became bouncers of authoritarian power, how can the Tsai administration not distain judges and act above the law? It has been a known fact that the courts are not controlled by the KMT, but if by transition of government, the courts are controlled by the DPP, then it is so deplorable.