Timing of Prisoner’s Execution ahead of Elections Questioned

Taiwan’s opposition KMT party has questioned the timing of the execution of a prisoner, after the ruling DPP broke a more than two-year long hiatus, and executed a man just a few months before nationwide municipal elections scheduled for November 24.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) spokesperson Hung Meng-kai (洪孟楷) suggested that the Tsai administration had engaged in selective law enforcement in an effort to pander to the electorate with a show of being tough on crime.

On Friday, August 31, Lee Hung-chi (李宏基) was executed with a shot to the heart at a prison in Kaohsiung City after Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) signed an execution order Thursday.

The execution marked the first time the death penalty had been applied since the Tsai administration took power more than two years ago.

The Crime

Lee and family
Lee stabbed his wife to death in front of a kindergarten, then fled with his eldest daughter who later died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In April, 2014, 41 year-old Lee Hung-chi went to a kindergarten and attempted to kidnap his two daughters. When his ex-wife intervened, he stabbed her to death in front of horrified onlookers.

Lee then fled with one of his daughters, drove to a rural area in Hsinchu County and attempted to commit a murder-suicide by burning charcoal in his car.

Police located the pair and attempted to rescue them, but the five year-old girl was in a coma and died two months later.

Lee was at first convicted of the double murder and given a life sentence. However, Lee showed no remorse and threatened to take revenge against the family of his ex-wife. At a second trial Lee was sentenced to death for having killed his wife, and biological offspring, and having showed no remorse or potential for rehabilitation.

The Execution

According to prison staff who spoke to Liberty Times Network, Lee was calm before the execution. Lee consumed two or three dishes of braised food, drank a mouthful of water, smoked a cigarette, and said “sorry to my family.”

At 3:37pm, Lee refused assistance, calmly walked to the place of execution on his own, and laid face-down.

A shot was administered to his heart from the back, and his death was confirmed at 4:10pm.

Wu Jiaxuan, vice president of the Abolition Alliance told reporters that Lee was determined to die, and had refused the assistance of the Abolition Alliance.

The fact that Lee had refused to make any appeal against the sentence may have been a factor in the decision to select him among other candidates on death row, according to the alliance.

International Response

The execution of Lee Hung-chi drew condemnations from the EU and Amnesty International.

Amnesty International Taiwan’s Acting Section Director, Annie Huang, said:

“It is deeply disappointing that Taiwan has decided to resume the implementation of a cruel punishment, especially after President Tsai Ing-wen had stated clearly that her government aims to abolish the death penalty.”

The European Union’s External Action Service (EEAS) said,

“The execution in Taiwan of Mr Li Hung-chi ends the moratorium on the application of the death penalty that had de-facto been in place since May 2016.”

Death Penalty has Popular Support

some groups oppose the death penalty
Photo: AFP/Patrick Lin

While some politicians and human rights groups in Taiwan oppose the death penalty, surveys show that a majority of voters support the death penalty.

Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang justified the execution, saying “His actions were brutal and ruthless … and inflicted irreparable harms to the victims’ families.”

Chen said the government was gradually decreasing the use of the death penalty, but would not abolish it for now.

“Abolishing the death sentence is an international trend, and a long-term goal for the justice ministry, but there is no consensus in our country,” Chen told reporters at a press conference following the execution.

Lee Hung-chi was one of 43 prisoners on death row in Taiwan: there are now 42 prisoners awaiting execution.

Pandering for Votes?

KMT legislator Tseng, Ming-chung (Zeng Mingzong, 曾銘宗) also questioned the timing of the execution and alleged that the DPP had used the execution in an attempt to raise support ahead of the year-end elections.

Hung Meng-kai pointed out that there has been a spate of high-profile murder cases in recent months that has shaken Taiwan society, and suggested that the Tsai administration has been ambiguous about the application of the death penalty, evasive, and selective about its enforcement.

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