TAIPEI, June 2013 – Taiwan’s former president Chen Shui-bian has tried to commit suicide in the prison where he is serving a 20-year sentence for corruption, the justice ministry said Monday.
Chen said the attempt was in protest at being excluded from an amnesty that last week saw charges dropped against hundreds of local politicians and academics accused of misusing government funds, the ministry said in a statement.
Chen attempted to hang himself with a towel in a bathroom at the jail in the central city of Taichung on Sunday night, but was prevented by a guard.
The ministry said medical personnel were immediately called to check his condition and no abnormalities were found.
Chen was transferred to a prison hospital in Taichung in April from a public hospital in Taipei, where he had spent several months being treated for depression and other health problems.
Doctors have recommended home care for the 62-year-old, who has been diagnosed with severe depression, a nerve disorder and other conditions, according to medical documents released by his office.
The justice ministry has said home care is not an option for inmates, and Chen does not qualify for immediate parole on medical grounds because he can receive treatment at the prison hospital.
Chen’s family and supporters have angrily accused the government of President Ma Ying-jeou of the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT) of making a politically motivated decision to deny him medical parole.
“This event shows that his health has been on the decline,” the former leader’s son Chen Chih-chung told AFP.
“What he needs is medical parole, not treatment in jail.”
The island’s leading opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which Chen once led, repeated its call for Chen to be granted medical parole.
Chen was convicted of corruption and money-laundering relating to his 2000-2008 presidency charges that he says stem from a vendetta by the current Beijing-friendly government.
His own administration promoted the concept of Taiwan’s formal independence from China, a stance that enraged Beijing.
Chen and his family were accused of laundering millions of dollars by sending political donations and secret diplomatic funds abroad, and of taking kickbacks on government contracts.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 but the term was later reduced after appeals.
Chen first entered the public spotlight when he represented dissident leaders charged with sedition in 1979 after a protest against the KMT’s authoritarian rule turned into a riot.
His career as a Taipei city councillor and lawmaker in the 1980s and 1990s was interrupted by a one-year prison term in the mid-1980s on libel charges after he accused a professor of plagiarism.
Chen won the Taipei mayoral race in 1994 to become one of the brightest political stars of the DPP. He then set his sights even higher.
During the 2000 presidential election, he proved a master at rallying popular support and securing the youth and blue-collar vote.
In 2004 he was narrowly re-elected after he was slightly wounded in an election-eve shooting at the culmination to a bitter campaign.
The KMT accused Chen of staging the incident to win popular sympathy, and tried in vain for the courts to annul his election victory. Chen has always denied the allegation.