BEIJING // An admission by the Taiwanese government that a young air force private was wrongly executed for murder nearly 14 years ago has led to renewed calls by human-rights groups for the island to abolish the death penalty.
The miscarriage of justice in the case of Chiang Kuo-ching, executed in August 1997 at the age of 21 after being convicted of raping and murdering a five-year-old girl a year earlier, has come to light less than a year after Taiwan restarted executions after they were suspended for several years.
While former Taiwanese leaders have resolved to phase out executions, opinion polls show continued support for capital punishment.
Yesterday, the president, Ma Ying-jeou, said Chiang was innocent, apologised to his mother and conceded the authorities had "acted wrongly" in the case.
An investigation by a state watchdog found there was insufficient evidence to convict the airman, who insisted he only initially confessed to the killing after 37 hours of interrogation and torture by military investigators.
Following a review of the case by the prosecution, a former air force serviceman with convictions for child abuse was recently arrested for the murder.
Between 2006 and 2009 there were no executions in Taiwan, but four were carried out last year after a shake-up following the resignation of the justice minister, Wang Ching-feng, who was heavily criticised for saying she would rather be killed herself than allow those on death row to be put to death.
Last month, prosecutors called for the death penalty for Lin Cheng-wei, the man accused of shooting Sean Lien, the son of a former vice president, at an election rally in November. Mr Lien was injured in the attack and a bystander was killed.
The International Federation for Human Rights yesterday said the Taiwanese authorities "must immediately take concrete and visible actions towards abolishing the death penalty".
"The irreversibility of the death penalty fundamentally contradicts universal human-rights principles, including the right to life, and basic notion of justice, in which an eye for an eye should have no place at all," the organisation's Asia office said in a statement.
A report released in 2006 by the federation and the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, while noting the number of crimes that carried the death penalty in Taiwan had been reduced, criticised appeals procedures and said defendants had limited access to lawyers.
Speaking to reporters a day before she was visited by Mr Ma, Chieng's mother suggested there was little the authorities could do to make up for what had happened.
"My son was killed for a crime he did not commit," she said. "For 15 years our family has lived in shame and neighbours never spoke to us. Whatever apology or compensation the government promises, it is too late."
During his visit to the family, Mr Ma bowed to a picture of Chieng, who was 21 at the time of his execution.
Mr Ma has instructed Taiwan's ministry of national defence to help the family seek compensation, and the ministry has said in a statement it will assist the family in this.