Capital punishment in Taiwan (ROC) is a legal penalty. The death penalty can be imposed for civil disorder, espionage, murder, treason, drug trafficking, piracy, terrorism and especially serious cases of robbery, rape and kidnapping, as well as for military offences, such as desertion and insubordination. During the White Terror, it was also used against political dissidents. In practice, however, all executions in Taiwan since the early 2000s have been for murder.
The standard method of execution in Taiwan is by shooting at close range with a single gun, usually performed by local bailiffs or military policemen. While lethal injection remains an option on the books and was considered by authorities in the past, it has never been used. Firing squads are the preferred option for military executions.
Up to the turn of the 21st century, Taiwan had one of the highest execution rates in the world when strict laws were still in effect in the harsh political environment. Even after martial law officially ended in 1987, more than 500 executions were carried out by 2000, with some being politically motivated. The number of executions dropped during the late 2000s, with only three in 2005 and none between 2006 and 2009. However, executions resumed in 2010 and have been steadily increasing. As of April 2, 2020, 45 executions have been carried out since 2010.
According to the poll numbers, more than 92% of people living in Taiwan support maintaining the use of capital punishment.
The Criminal Law of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法) rules that the following crimes are eligible for the death penalty when committed by military personnel:
The Criminal Code of the Republic of China(zh:中華民國刑法) rules that the following civilian offenses are eligible for the death penalty :
Article 63 of the Criminal Code also rules that the death penalty cannot be imposed for offenders aged below 18 or above 80. The death penalty is not prescribed as a mandatory punishment in any case and is only imposed with the discretion of the sentencing court.
Other special laws which define capital offenses include:
In practice, all death sentences and executions since 2003 have been imposed for murder-related offenses. The last non-homicide-related execution in Taiwan took place in October 2002, in the case of a Pingtung County fisherman who was accused of trafficking 295 kg of heroin in 1993.
Two laws, which have since been abolished, have historically contributed to a significant number of executions in Taiwan:
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 their family, arrange for any religious rites, and even get married before the execution. Should any new evidence or procedural flaw that may influence the verdict to 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. 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. President Lee Teng-hui also ordered two nationwide commutations in 1988 and 1991 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 have housed two inmates in 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. Prisoners are allowed to read censored newspapers and books as well as practice religious activities with approved religious personnel.
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. 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. 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 their 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). The condemned prisoner is then injected with strong anaesthetic to render them 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. It is customary for the condemned to place a NT$500 or 1000 banknote in their leg irons as a tip for the executioners.
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, execution by shooting (performed by local bailiffs or military policemen) is the only execution method used in the ROC currently (including military executions).
ROC military sentences and executions are administered only by the Ministry of National Defense and have no connection with the Ministry of Justice. Military sentences and executions are carried out in military courts and prisons across the island as well as Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. Unlike the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense does not release detailed information on executions, and so little information is available.
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:
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.[user-generated source]
There are accounts of organs being removed from executed prisoners while they were still medically alive.
According to the Death Penalty Procedural Rules (執行死刑規則) of Taiwan, executes 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.
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 judgment of brain death.
In Taiwan, there have been cases of executes 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 executes was found to be still breathing unaided when being prepared for organ collection in the Taipei Veterans General Hospital. The executed was sent back to the execution ground to complete the execution. This case caused the Taipei Veterans General Hospital to refuse organ collection of executes for eight years.
In 2015, Taiwan banned the use of organs from executed prisoners.
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). 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.
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 the 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:
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".
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. 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 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." 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. 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.
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:
Despite these suspicious points, the 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.
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. Chiang was arrested for the September 12, 1996, rape and murder of a five-year-old girl known only by the surname of Hsieh. 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. In December 2011, Hsu was convicted of the murder of Hsieh and sentenced to 18 years in prison. 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 9 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. 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, 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. However, many of the officers and civilians who had received awards for presumably solving the case had those awards revoked.
Taiwan's major Buddhist authorities hold diverse interpretations of what can be considered a "Buddhist perspective" to capital punishment:
...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 killings. It 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.
During the Republic of China (Taiwan) 9-13 July 2002 state visit to the United States of America, the then Taiwanese Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan "made a policy statement" of moving towards abolishing the death penalty using a phased approach. However, most people in Taiwan disapproved such an abolishment, and as of 2021, the death penalty remains in place.
These controversial cases apparently influenced the local judicial system.
After being elected in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian, announced that he supported the abolition of capital punishment in Taiwan. In 2001, Justice Minister Chen Ding-nan called for the abolition of capital punishment within 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 of the Death Penalty") which envisioned a national dialogue toward the formation of "a popular consensus for abolition" followed by abolition. Under Chen, there was a major decline in capital punishment in Taiwan.
Although the right to abolish the 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. 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. Wang's successor Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫) promised premier Wu Den-yih that he would resume executions. On April 30, 2010, Tseng Yung-fu ordered four executions, ending the four-year moratorium. As of April 2, 2020, 35 executions have been carried out since 2010.