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Transparency of ex-president's medical transfer questioned

2012/09/21 21:08:46

Taipei, Sept. 21 (CNA) United States-based human rights activists cast doubt on the transparency of a follow-up medical examination of jailed former President Chen Shui-bian because the hospital he was assigned to is affiliated with the government.

The two members of the Human Rights Action Center (HRAC), Hans Wahl and Harreld Dinkins, said they were concerned about the Justice Ministry's decision to transfer Chen to Taipei Veterans General Hospital, which is under the government's Veterans Affairs Commission.

"Assignment to a government military hospital, itself, draws into question the degree of independence it can exercise," Wahl said.

According to the activists, international human rights standards stipulate that the medical team examining a prisoner be comprised of professionals agreeable to both the prisoner and the authorities, and the unilateral decision to choose the hospital has infringed on Chen's rights.

"We are not questioning the professionalism of the doctors at the hospital," Dinkins said. "The prisoner has to feel, has to have confidence in the medical examination and the treatment that he or she is receiving while in detention."

The "Oath of Athens" of the International Council of Prison Medical Services states that "medical judgments be based on the needs of our patients and take priority over any non-medical matters," Wahl said.

Having visited the ex-president in person, Dinkins said Chen's condition was quite a shock.

"He was not even a shadow of his former self," Dinkins said, adding that Chen showed symptoms of slurred speech and disorientation and an unusual level of fatigue.

The former president, who is serving a 17.5-year sentence for corruption, was sent to the hospital earlier in the day for a detailed examination of his respiratory and circulatory systems.

"We were disappointed," Wahl said, explaining that the center has made its point to justice officials during meetings earlier this week.

Still, Wahl said he was grateful for all parties involved in Chen's case, saying they have "expressed genuine feelings of heart."

In response to the activists' concerns, Taipei Prison said the hospital was chosen mainly because it was capable of providing advanced equipment and services to treat Chen.

"The decision did not come out until 9 p.m. yesterday, which means we were very serious about the issue," said Yang Fang-yen, the prison's chief secretary.

Denying that the hospital has any specific political affiliation, Yang also said current laws in Taiwan do not allow prisoner patients to choose where or from which doctor they will receive treatment.

Established in 1994, HRAC is a nonprofit organization that works on issues related to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supports Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)