Jennifer Cheng, a supporter of imprisoned former President Chen Shui-bian, attended every session of Chen’s 2009 trial. The trial was restricted to a limited attendance of twenty members of the public per day. Many sought admission but only a few got in the courtroom making Cheng’s attendance record remarkable.
Jennifer Cheng is an unabashed supporter of Chen Shui-bian and repeatedly referred to Chen by his nickname, Abian, during an interview in the coffee shop of a downtown Taipei hotel to discuss Chen’s trial.
Cheng started her story on Chen Shui-bian’s last day in office: “In 2008, May 20, when Abian left the President’s office, just twenty minutes later Ma’s government told him you cannot go abroad. Then on November 11, they put handcuffs on Abian and took him to the jail.”
“First time in the District Court, I went to the court,” said Cheng. “At that time, just twenty persons were allowed into the court but two persons are KMT. They dressed in red clothes, red shoes, even the hat, all red. In the court when we took a rest, they speak loudly to Abian, “You take this money, you and your family must go in the jail forever,” every time. At first I am afraid of the judge, I am very helpless. I don’t know how to stop them, the two persons. Every time, in the past four years, the two persons, women, were in the court. We call them the red team. I told myself I must stop them [from heckling] so once I told the two women, “If you speak again to Abian, I will fight you. So I stopped them.”
Jennifer Cheng’s account of “red team” harassment of Chen Shui-bian is confirmed by another court room observer, Aquia Tsai, who attended the trial several times and also witnessed courtroom misbehavior by the two women dressed in red.
“These two women of the red team always had seats in the courtroom. Only twenty people were allowed inside but these two had an arrangement with the KMT. The courtroom had eighty seats but only twenty were for the public. There were always empty seats but the people were kept out,” complained Cheng.
“Very few reporters used the seats reserved for them. Usually just one or two reporters. The trial was very long and the reporters only came when there was something important. In Taiwan the journalists do not report inside the court. They don’t report on anything that happens in the courtroom. They do not publish honest reports. Only the eighteen people in the courtroom really know what happened.”
“The first time I go to the court I tell myself I will keep coming because the President is very helpless. There is no one to stand by him,” said Cheng. “I am a part of DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] but they leave Abian in the court alone. They did not help him. Every time we went to the court we were outside and know when the police car approached us Abian was inside. So we would speak loudly. “Abian is honest, free Abian.” Every time. When the police car passed we would then run into the court. When the court is finished we, eighteen persons, would hurry, run, run, run to the street corner waiting for the police car because we know Abian is inside there. We still speak loudly, “Free Abian, he is not guilty.” Every time in the past four years, every time.”
“The first time in the court the judge announced Abian must be sent to the jail. Many women, the supporters got down on their knees and asked the judge, “Free Abian,” but nothing, it didn’t work.”
Cheng told of midnight court sessions to keep down protestors and reduce the number of reporters in attendance: “Outside the court, every time, there are many supporters. Sometimes when there were many supporters the judge would postpone the court until early morning, 1:30 a.m. because outside many people support Abian so they are afraid.”
Cheng said the trial was postponed until after midnight, “Many times, many times.”
“One time Abian is very upset so he refused to eat….We try to cheer up Abian, we try. We tell Abian, “You must eat, we need you, Taiwan needs you.” We told him we love him and he smiled. He heard our voice,” said Cheng.
“In February this year I went to the jail to see President Abian, his health is very worse. He was stuttering. That time my heart was broken,” said Cheng. “I went in August and he was much worse. I can’t believe he changed a lot.”
Cheng was critical of the middle-of-the-night court sessions: “In the court two or three times they [prosecutors] were snoring. They were snoring and scared themselves and they wake up. Ridiculous.”
“He believed originally his case [would be fair] but actually it was not. He is a lawyer, he thought it would be fair,” said Cheng.
“In the court you must be quiet and you must not cry. If you are crying the court police will send you out and never come again. So I always hold my tears.”
Next: Jennifer Cheng interview continues with more tales of the court room