Elections in January resulted in Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) becoming the country’s first woman President. There were some positive developments in three longstanding death penalty cases but several violent incidents sparked public calls for retaining the punishment. The new government decided to drop charges against more than 100 protesters from the 2014 “Sunflower Movement”. The same-sex couple relationship register was extended to 10 municipalities and counties. The Legislative Yuan’s judicial committee passed amendments to the Civil Code proposed by two DPP legislators, a step towards legalizing same-sex marriage.
Freedom of assembly
On 23 May, Prime Minister Lin Chuan announced that the new cabinet was dropping criminal charges against 126 protesters. He stated that the previous government’s decision to charge the protesters was a “political reaction” to the demonstration instead of merely a “legal case”. In March 2014, student-led protests against the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement between Taiwan and China, referred to as the “Sunflower Movement”, had led to 24 days of demonstrations, the occupation of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliament), and a 10-hour occupation of the Executive Yuan, the government offices.
Two weeks before the previous government ended its term in May, the Taichung Branch of the Taiwan High Court released Cheng Hsing-tse on bail pending a retrial. He had served 14 years in prison after he was convicted of the murder of a police officer during an exchange of gunfire at a karaoke parlour in Taichung in 2002. The Prosecutor-General’s office applied for a retrial in March, citing new evidence which raised doubts about his conviction. This was the first retrial sought in a case where the final Supreme Court’s ruling upheld the death sentence.
In July 2016, the Prosecutor-General applied for an extraordinary appeal for Chiou Ho-shun. He had been imprisoned since 1989, the longest-serving death row inmate in modern Taiwan history. The application cited the failure of previous courts to omit evidence from a coerced “confession”. Chiou Ho-shun was tortured in custody and forced to “confess” before being found guilty of robbery, kidnapping and murder.
On 13 October, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s decision to acquit Hsu Tzi-chiang, who had repeatedly appealed against his convictions for kidnapping, extortion and murder in 1995.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee passed a second reading of a refugee bill on 14 July. It would be the first such law in Taiwan if passed, and may allow asylum-seekers from mainland China to apply for political asylum in Taiwan.