In his book ‘Stand By You,’ human rights lawyer Chiu Hsien-chih examines major human rights cases, problems with Taiwan’s legal system and pressing issues of judicial reform.
Chiu “Handy” Hsien-chih, a human rights lawyer, former president of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and a New Power Party (NPP) candidate who lost in the contest for Hsinchu’s legislative seat to the Democratic Progressive Party’s Ker Chien-ming, recently released his first book, Stand By You. Published in traditional Chinese, the book offers a diary-style look into Chiu’s legal battles. Through a series of 19 short essays, the author reflects on himself, his family, his clients and fellow attorneys, and shows readers a side of himself that has rarely been displayed on or off camera.
This collection of essays documents some of the most important human rights legal cases in Taiwan’s transformation into a democracy. It tells stories about his first-hand experience as a lawyer representing workers whose factories closed down, the family of a soldier who died while in training, a death-row convict and student protesters.
Chiu’s book not only records what happened during a particular period but also examines critical issues such as labor law, military law, assembly law, and the processes involved — suspicion, arrest, trial, appeal, re-trial, execution.
“There’s no longer the strength to embrace hope, so we must allow hope to embrace us,” Chiu writes.
The author cares deeply about human rights, and his book implies that it is sometimes disappointing to see how the government handles these issues. Chiu stresses his belief in the power of the people, and makes it clear that he will always stand up for the rights of the Taiwanese.
Chiu looks at experienced criminal defense lawyers, law professors and forensic experts who have represented wrongfully convicted individuals, helping to identify the causes of wrongful convictions, to pursue legal action against state misconduct and calling for policy reforms to prevent the recurrence of such incidents. Together, the lawyers explored ways to fight post-conviction cases in which the suspects claim to be innocent, those who are in legal trouble due to flawed forensic evidence or state misconduct.
The book also illustrates the importance of promoting a culture that raises more pro bono lawyers. Chiu argues that this practice is essential as it helps make justice accessible to those who cannot afford lawyers or lack the necessary means to realize their rights. He also notes the importance of empowering and giving autonomy to communities and marginalized people.
Chiu is known for his penetrating intellect, restless energy and a clear vision about how to make progress in Taiwan’s democratization and human rights. The author has not only visited jails and documented atrocities committed by authoritarian regimes, but has also observed and participated in the political trials of members of the Sunflower Movement in 2014, including acting as the representative of student activist Chen Wei-ting.
One of his most notable accomplishments in recent years were his efforts to inspire a group of outstanding lawyers to provide pro bono services to the family of Hung Chung-chiu in 2013.
When Chiu represented young army conscript Hung’s family in 2013, little did he know that the case would quickly stir public outrage and attract the attention of international media. On Aug. 3 that year, an estimated 250,000 people dressed in white gathered on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei to protest Hung’s mistreatment and death, leading to the resignation of the minister of national defense and the prosecution of Army officers and NCOs involved in the case. In addition, the Legislative Yuan passed a number of bills to protect the human rights of members of the military.
One of the issues at stake was abuse of power in the Taiwanese military. Chiu discusses how Hung’s death and subsequent case led to the abolition of the military court system, with the transfer of all cases to the civilian judiciary system. Major reforms to Taiwan’s legal environment, including the abolition of a court martial system in peacetime, were a continuing concern for many Taiwanese. Chiu’s record of Taiwan’s legal reforms, human rights and grassroots movements’ critical moments is not an end, he says, but rather the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s development and democratization.
Chiu became a human rights lawyer because he wanted to make a difference. He is direct and detailed in recounting the issues that arose in this phase of his lawyering life. He describes the Sunflower protests and the many legal issues that surrounded the unprecedented event, and what has changed over the past decades in the history of protests, public and vocal civil disobedience. The variety of cases described in this book are a testament to Chiu’s sharp eye for (in)justice. They also serve as a useful introduction for readers who may not be familiar with Taiwan’s contemporary human rights history.
Chiu lives by example and calls on all Taiwanese to see society through new eyes. Stand By You is his first book, but it likely will not be his last. Taiwan’s legal reform needs more fearless advocates like Chiu to win the seemingly unwinnable cases, to find new walls to break down, and new values to replace them with.
The book includes a foreword by Chen Fang-ming, a respected literary critic and historian of Taiwanese literature.
我袂放你一個人：律師，永遠的反抗者 (Stand By You)
邱顯智 Chiu Hsien-chih
Locus Publishing (2017)
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