Last chance for Taiwan death row inmate after torture claims

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's longest-serving death row prisoner, who says he confessed after being tortured, could be given a last chance of freedom in a case that has sparked criticism from rights groups.

Lawyers for Chiou Ho-shun, 55, who has been on death row since 1989, lodged a motion for a retrial at the High Court in Taipei Tuesday after two retired police officers backed his torture claims.

The officers presented their evidence to the top government watchdog the Control Yuan in 2013 and that body recommended an "extraordinary appeal" to prosecutors.

But the appeal was rejected late last year, prompting rights group Judicial Reform Foundation to seek the retrial.

Chiou was found guilty of kidnapping and murdering a six-year-old boy and robbing and killing a woman, but said he retracted his confession immediately after his interrogation.

Chiou has said he was beaten, given electric shocks, forced to sit on ice and held blindfolded in a small isolated cell during the month-long police investigation.

His appeals have been repeatedly rejected, with the High Court giving a final ruling three years ago that his death sentence should stand.

The two retired police officers came forward after that ruling.

"I felt it would not be right to see him executed," one officer surnamed Wu told reporters Tuesday.

Wu was one of more than 20 officers who worked on the case.

"Chiou was tortured to confess, but many details of his confessions did not match the police evidence and those of the other suspects," said Wu, speaking publicly for the first time outside the ministry of justice in Taipei.

Amnesty International called the case "a stain on Taiwan's justice system".

"A confession obtained by torture should never be used in court. By picking and choosing bits of recordings to allow, the court flouts international law and makes a mockery of justice in Taiwan," said Roseann Rife, its East Asia research director.

"The High Court now has an opportunity to right this wrong."

The Judicial Reform Foundation said time was running out for Chiou as his health was deteriorating.

Chiou is among 42 death-row inmates.

Taiwan resumed executions in 2010 after a five-year hiatus, putting 27 prisoners to death since then including six last week.