Execution in Taiwan is by shooting

A policeman was killed by a mentally ill man on a Taiwan Railways train.

The judgement in the first round of court proceedings found him innocent based on Article 19 of the Criminal Law, which provides special regulation for crimes committed by the mentally ill.

Cases can then be appealed to the second instance.

The result in that first hearing was a shock to most in society, in that a killer could be found innocent of the crime.

Political interference?

The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, thereafter expressed her support in the case being appealed to the second instance.

Meanwhile, the premier of the Executive Yuan, Su Tseng-chang, expressed his own disappointment and consternation over the result, and agreed with President Tsai supporting an appeal being filed. “Is it enough for a major criminal case like this, to only employ one psychiatrist’s identification? (of mental illness)” said Su.

The reaction of President Tsai was, however, criticized by lawyer, Lin Klaw who went on record saying “I would have to say, this time, Tsai has it wrong. “To openly support the appeal to the second instance means denial of the judgment (in the first instance) and the profession of the judge, and the psychiatrist,” Lin explained.

“(A)nd this expression can put the judge in the second instance in a dilemma. If they sentence him guilty, rumor (could) be that the president has given instructions to the judicial unit; or what if the judge feels intervened (upon) and decides to return the same result to prove their (own) judicial independence? It’s going to affect the decision of the judge in the second instance.”

A victim’s mother speaks

Wang Wan-Yu, who became a legislator after her own four-year-old daughter was killed by another mentally ill man in front of her in 2016, criticized the reaction of Premier Su. “It’s inappropriate to blame the whole thing on the judicial unit and to use such intense language to stimulate social opposition,” said Wang.

“If we trace back to the root cause of this tragedy, are you sure there’s nothing that the Executive Yuan should have done?” she added.

Wang also addressed the issue that the premier has supposedly long ignored the importance of mental health issues in Taiwan, and distributes a very limited budget to healthcare for the mentally ill.

The consistency of policies from hospital to community is weak, and the resources available to patients in need are insufficient, and are not integrated.

“How come a social safety net cannot prevent this kind of tragedy from happening, even when (said policies) have been implemented for this long? Why don’t we actively rethink the possibility of improving the system, rather than exposing the whole of society to further risks?” Wang asked the premier.

Societal consternation

The resulting controversy over whether we should simply punish all the killers to bring justice to victims, or whether we should consider their life experiences, the mental state of the criminal, and the root causes that might have come from the systems in place have long existed in Taiwanese society.

Looking at several examples of homicides in recent years, it can be seen that many murderers do have mental issues such as a period in their youth that saw them suffer some kind of torture – mental or physical – being bullied, socially isolated or verbally abused by their own family.

Many choose to kill because they wish to be sentenced to death. 

“I want to be killed, that’s the reason why I chose to kill. I tried to commit suicide four times but never succeed”, said Tseng Wen-Chin, a murderer who killed a young boy in Tainan in 2012.

Tseng was ignored and physically tortured by his father, and suffered from mental illness and disability throughout his early life.

Seeking punishment

Some murderers are furious when they are told they will not be sentenced to death.

“Life imprisonment instead of the death penalty? What can society teach their children if this (kind of) thing is really happening?” said Wong Ren-Hsien, a man with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who started a fire that killed his 6 relatives during Chinese New Year.

He claimed that he was “tortured for many years” by his family.

Traditional society failings

There are many aspects that the social safety net of today is unable to properly control or help with.

Tension in the home due to a child’s academic failures, unemployment or non-traditional sexual orientation.

The structural problems in society regarding traditional concepts, domestic violence and a lack of resources for mental healthcare, have been proven to lead, in part, to these tragic cases. 

And this writer believes that there is a long way to go for society to progress, and many government policies we need to improve.

Otherwise, cases like these will keep making society pay an unbearable cost. 

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Editor’s note: Dr Punit Saurabh is an Assistant Professor (Strategy area) at Nirma