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© Christophe Meireis
I don’t have dreams. I just wish that there won’t be another Hsu Tzu-chiang.

Hsu Tzu-chiang
16 years in prison, including 12 on death row
Released in 2012

Sentenced to death in 2000 for the kidnapping and murder of a businessman, Hsu Tzu-Chiang was given the death penalty in six consecutive trials. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. In 2016, he was finally exonerated in his 9th trial, after 16 years in prison. His case has had a strong impact on the judicial system in Taiwan due to its high profile and convincing injustice. He now works for the Judicial Reform Foundation.

Approximately 180 people were executed in Taiwan during his years in prison. Although the number of executions has fallen sharply since the mid-2000s, Taiwan continues to sentence to death and to execute. At the end of 2020, 49 people were still on death row. In the same year, the government issued new guidelines for the execution process, which is carried out by firing squad. Death row prisoners now have the right to hold a religious ceremony of their choice before their execution and the executioners t have the right to psychological support implicitly recognising the impact of the death penalty on all those involved. Asia and the Pacific is one of the regions with the highest use of the death penalty, with a proportion of retentionist states at 54% compared to 28% worldwide. Asia is said to be the continent where the most death row prisoners are executed, although it is not possible to establish a precise number. Indeed, since data on the application of the death penalty in China, Vietnam and North Korea are classified as state secrets, it is estimated that thousands of people are executed there each year.

Hsu Tzu-Chiang was sentenced to death based solely on the testimony of his co-defendants, although he had an alibi, which the prosecution and judges refused to accept. Thanks to an appeal on a claim of interpretation filed by his lawyers, the constitutional court ruled in 2003 that a person could not be convicted on the basis of testimony alone, under the presumption of innocence. As a result, Hsu was able to have his case retried. He was released in 2012 under the Fair and Speedy Criminal Trial Act, which prohibits the detention of a person beyond 8 years without conviction. But he waited until 2016 to be finally acquitted. Hsu is now continuing his fight for other innocent people in prison. He says he is very frustrated with the judicial system, and with judges in particular. He would like to see far-reaching judicial reforms to address all the problems in the system, but insists that the biggest problem is the judges, who he says refuse to admit their mistakes.

Staving off the Executioner: Taiwan’s Unofficial Moratorium

Author: Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Edited by: Taipei Times
Publication Date: 2009

This book tells the story of how Chong De-shu's execution was stopped, against all odds, by Taiwanese lawyers and NGO workers who didn't think it was possible, but weren't willing to give up. It is an inspiration to abolitionists around the world who may feel they face insurmountable obstacles. It is also a more general reflection on the debate over the constitutionality of capital punishment.

The book discusses the public opposition - and even threats - that local abolitionists have faced in the fight for Chong and other death row inmates and highlights the flaws in the application of the death penalty in Taiwan, including the lack of legal representation of defendants in death penalty cases at trial, and fears that the death penalty is being applied for more than the most serious crimes. The book argues that Chong does not deserve the death penalty and calls for stronger safeguards for the rights of death row inmates and defendants in death penalty cases.

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