TAIPEI: Taiwan’s ailing ex-president Chen Shui-bian has been freed from prison on medical parole after serving six years of a 20-year sentence for graft, as political leaders called for reconciliation on the deeply divided island.
The 64-year-old, who led Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, waved to crowds of supporters as he left Taichung prison yesterday afternoon after being granted a month’s parole due to ill-health.
His freedom would be contingent on his medical condition, said deputy justice minister Chen Ming-tang, and he would be subject to monthly health check-ups.
The former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leader, who ended 50 years of Kuomintang party rule when he came to power, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 for money-laundering and bribery during his term in office – reduced to 20 years after appeals.
Chen was transferred to a prison hospital in April last year after being diagnosed with severe depression, suspected Parkinson’s disease and other conditions.
He attempted suicide in June, trying to hang himself with a towel in a bathroom of the prison hospital.
“The (independent) medical team think Chen needs to leave his present location where his medical treatment is not helpful to his condition,” said deputy minister Chen after a parole board meeting yesterday morning.
“So a decision has now been made to parole him for a month.”
Wearing a cap and trainers, Chen was brought to the jail entrance in a wheelchair before being helped to his feet by medical personnel and his son.
He walked with a stick to a black sedan and waved to more than 200 cheering supporters at the prison gates before being driven to his home south of Taiwan.
His release comes as political leaders from both the ruling Kuomintang and the main opposition DPP make moves towards reconciliation in the face of an increasingly frustrated electorate.
Taiwan has long been split between supporters of the China-friendly Kuomintang and the DPP, which is traditionally sceptical of closer ties with Beijing.
China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though the island has ruled itself since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war. Taiwan has never formally proclaimed independence.
The Kuomintang suffered a dramatic defeat at local polls in November as fears grow over warming ties with China under current president Ma Ying-jeou.
But there is widespread public dissatisfaction with the entire political spectrum, with the rival camps seen as failing to unite to tackle major issues including a stuttering economy. DPP leaders have also acknowledged the gulf between the camps is not beneficial for Taiwan in the long-term.
“While there may be no way to know the exact reason behind the decision to parole him, a number of political heavyweights from the Kuomintang have felt it is time to release Chen,” said Lee Shiao-feng, a professor at National Taipei University of Education.
“The move will help ease the tense mood that has divided the country and been overshadowing domestic politics for years.”
Before arriving home Chen went to a motel for a bath and a haircut, according to local media, in a ritual to rid him of bad luck.
Supporters at his home in Kaohsiung welcomed him in the evening with huge flags emblazoned with “Release President Chen”.
His parole also required a NT$2mil (RM221,550) bail payment. — AFP