Tsai Tsai-yuan is alleged to be a con man, a fraudster, a man who defrauded members of his own organization, Taiwan Civil Government. Tsai, a longtime foe of the Republic of China in-exile that seeks to imprison him, is accused of cheating TCG members with false claims about its identity card and support from the United States. Arrested in May 2018, Tsai and others have been on trial in a tiny courtroom in Taoyuan twice a month. ROC prosecutors drag out the proceedings with an endless series of hearings and continuances. People that know “Prime Minister” Tsai Tsai-yuan swear that he is not the kind of person that would deceive his supporters.
A former political prisoner, Tsai suffered twelve years imprisonment at the notorious Green Island Prison. Tsai’s crimes were participating in a student discussion group and writing an essay in a political review journal. Tsai did another three years at Jingmei Prison where he was kept shackled and handcuffed in his cell day and night for six months. Tsai’s final crime was smuggling a list of political prisoners out of prison and into the hands of Amnesty International.
Although Tsai is modest in telling of his years of sorrow, he is proud that his jailers never could break him. Tsai’s name and sentence dates are carved in stone at the Green Island Human Rights Memorial. Tsai’s picture is posted with other notable prisoners at the National Human Rights Museum.
Linda Gail Arrigo, a well-known human rights activist in Taiwan and author of A Borrowed Voice interviewed Tsai in 2004 for a series of reports she did on the White Terror era and the fight against dictator Chiang Kai-shek and his regime. Arrigo dug deep into the Amnesty International incident that embarrassed Chiang giving the world a peek behind locked doors and she interviewed the major participants, including Tsai Tsai-yuan, who paid the price in pain for the leak. Arrigo has generously allowed her interview and report to be quoted.
“Tsai remembered the first time he had been arrested, in 1962….the old guards laughed and said it was lucky for them that it was no longer like in the 1950’s, when they were paid NT$5 to strangle a prisoner in a burlap bag to death, without seeing the face, and without bothering with a trial. They also heard that in the basement, below where the prisoners slept, there had been a machine that crushed a person alive to meat mush, so it could be flushed out through the sewers into the Tamsui River, which was not far away.”
“Tsai said that before this cadets case there were a few people in prison for advocating Taiwan Independence, but the great majority were either “reds” or cases of injustice…the KMT eating its own.”
In early 1971, on a list of over 400 names,Tsai “carefully listed name, date of birth, address, sentence or indictment item, and a commentary on the political nature of the case.” After the list made its way outside the prison and the subject of international news, Tsai paid a heavy price for the disclosure.
“He was called to the warden’s office, and immediately shackled, hand and foot. He was taken to an isolation room, and questioned with three tape recorders going. He readily admitted that he had compiled the list and smuggled it out, but he refused to implicate others. The interrogators couldn’t figure out how he had gathered so much information. They were surprised that he did such a thing when he only had a year and a half to go on his first conviction. At 11 pm he was abruptly taken to the second floor, and savagely beaten by a single guard, in the shower there, apparently as retribution.”
“Tsai finds it hard to explain his feelings at that time, and how he could withstand the torture. He says that since he had been successful in exposing the list, he was willing to suffer anything. He went through several hours of interrogation a day, continually beaten. His kidneys were damaged, and he still needs treatment for the long-term damage to them. Having his fingers squeezed in a vise, knees forced the wrong way, legs beaten….This went on for a month.”
“It was clear that the National Security Bureau had been severely embarrassed by the leak of the political prisoner list, and was determined to break him and deal with all those involved in the leak.”
“Then they sat him in an electric chair, with wires attached to him fingers, toes, and penis. Three people were watching….When Tsai began to feel the current being turned up, he jolted his body in a pretended shock, threw back his head, and virtually ceased breathing. They checked his eyes, but he had also rolled his eyes back so only the whites showed, and they believed he had passed out. The interrogators were somewhat worried, and they took him out of the chair and threw water on him. He feigned slowly coming to.”
One day the prosecutor visited and Tsai was taken from his cell to an interview room. “The prosecutor asked Tsai to sit down, but Tsai, wearing only shorts, turned to show the severe bruises up and down his legs and back, which is why he could not sit down, he could only lie on the floor of his cell.”
The prosecution had been seeking a “punishment of life imprisonment or death, for the leak of the list, considering it a continuation of his previous sedition. But the prosecutor looked at his discolored flesh and only asked him his motivation.”
These days the prosecutors say Tsai’s motives are money not revolutionary spirit. Supposedly Tsai along with Roger and Julian Lin tricked members into parting with money making false claims about the benefits of the TCG identity card and support from the United States, Although the trial has been grinding on for months in an endless series of hearings and continuances, very little has been about what Tsai is alleged to have said or done. Prosecutors have concentrated their attention on Roger and Julian Lin.
Roger Lin, the alleged mastermind of an elaborate political scam, died in November 2019, leaving Tsai and widow Julian as co-defendants. Although they share a common foe, the ROC, the two leaders have parted company in a power struggle for control of Taiwan Civil Government. Rather than battle Lin for leadership, Tsai simply formed his own reform group called Taiwan Civil Government 3.0, splitting the organization. With the donor pool shallower, both Tsai and Lin have to keep resources in mind when planning future activity. With a twist of irony, both seek support from so-called victims they allegedly cheated.
Tsai Tsai-yuan lost fifteen years of his life in ROC prisons and now may be looking at spending his last years in another ROC prison, if he is a fraudster as prosecutors claim. Tsai is undaunted and denies he has done anything wrong or tricked anyone. Tsai says he is not afraid of the ROC and they cannot do anything to him to make him break. Tsai is adamant he is innocent and that his political views and efforts against the ROC are the sole reason he is on trial.