Taiwan: Grant retrial to death row inmate tortured to confess

Taiwan’s High Court should grant a fair retrial to the country’s longest serving death row inmate, after two police officers came forward to corroborate his claims he was tortured to confess to the crime, Amnesty International said. 

Lawyers for Chiou Ho-shun, 55, who has been on death row since 1989, are due to lodge a motion for a retrial today based on the new evidence. He was sentenced to death for robbery, kidnapping and murder in 1989.

This case has long been a stain on Taiwan’s justice system and the High Court now has an opportunity to right this wrong.

Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

The two police officers were involved in transferring Chiou Ho-shun from his cell to the interrogations in 1988. They are now willing to testify in court that Chiou Ho-shun told them at the time of the initial police interrogations that he had been tortured and forced to confess to the crimes.

“If ever there was a case that demanded a retrial, it’s Chiou Ho-shun’s,” said Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

“This case has long been a stain on Taiwan’s justice system and the High Court now has an opportunity to right this wrong.”


Chiou Ho-shun described being blindfolded, tied up, forced to sit on ice, subjected to electric shocks with an electric baton and having water mixed with pepper poured into his mouth and nose during questioning. The interrogations lasted up to 10 hours at a time, with five or six people beating him to the point where he repeatedly lost consciousness.

The case is one of Taiwan’s most protracted criminal legal cases, with repeated appeal hearings over the past three decades, in which parts of the forced confession have continued to be permitted as evidence in court. No material evidence linking Chiou Ho-shun to the crimes has ever been presented.

In August 2011, Taiwan’s Supreme Court had confirmed Chiou Ho-shun’s death sentence, after all appeals had been exhausted. However, based on the new testimony from the police officers, Chiou Ho-shun’s lawyers can now lodge a motion for a retrial.

Although Chiou Ho-shun has repeatedly claimed he retracted his confession immediately after his interrogation in 1988, prosecutors have previously said Chiou Ho-shun only withdrew it at a later date.

The new evidence underlines why Chiou Ho-shun should be granted a fair retrial without recourse to the death penalty.

The prohibition of torture is absolute. International law forbids the use of confessions obtained through torture, ill-treatment or other forms of coercion as evidence in court.

In 1994, two prosecutors and 10 police officers were convicted of using torture during the initial investigation. However, the defendants’ confessions were not completely excluded as court evidence. Instead, only those sections of the police recordings that presented clear evidence of torture were excluded. 

In 2003, police also revealed that another inmate sentenced to death for an unrelated crime, Hu Kuan-pao, confessed just before his execution to one of the murders Chiou Ho-shun was accused of. His claim was not investigated.

“Chiou Ho-shun’s conviction is flawed. A confession obtained by torture should never be used in court. By picking and choosing bits of recordings to allow, the court flouts international law and makes a mockery of justice in Taiwan,” said Roseann Rife.

After more than 25 years on death row, Chiou Ho-shun’s health has deteriorated. He has lost hearing in his left ear and suffers migraines as a result of the police beatings when he was first detained. He was recently admitted to intensive care with breathing difficulties.

“The serious miscarriages of justice in Chiou Ho-shun’s case underline why Taiwan must fulfill its promise to abolish the death penalty without delay,” said Roseann Rife. 


Chiou Ho-shun was first sentenced to death in 1989 in connection with the murder of Ko Hung Yu-lan and the kidnapping of Lu Cheng.

He was one of 12 defendants the police reportedly held incommunicado for four months, during which time they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. They have said they were were forced to confess to the kidnapping and killing of Lu and to another unsolved crime that occurred in November 1987, the murder and dismemberment of a female insurance agent, Ko Hung Yu-lan. The defendants later retracted their confessions saying they had been tortured.

There were discrepancies in the defendants’ testimonies and no material evidence, such as a murder weapon or finger prints on the victim’s bodies, has ever been presented to court. Only Chiou Ho-shun was sentenced to death.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.