Taiwan bans ex-leader from publishing jail article

TAIPEI - Taiwan's jailed former leader Chen Shui-bian on Monday accused the government of restricting his freedom of speech after he was blocked from publishing a political commentary from behind bars.

Chen, who is in prison for graft, had planned to publish a piece in the Taipei-based Next Media Magazine on rumoured plans of a meeting between President Ma Ying-jeou and veteran politician James Soong.

Initially prison authorities allowed Chen to send the article to the magazine's editors, but later reversed their decision, prompting protest from Chen, who was formerly also the head of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

"This is the result of political intervention," Taipei City Councillor Chiang Chih ming of the DPP quoted Chen as saying.

"This looks like we have returned to the martial law period when Taiwan's freedom of speech and thinking was restricted," Chiang told AFP, paraphrasing comments made by Chen during a meeting between the pair at the prison.

Before becoming a democracy, Taiwan was governed under martial law for almost 40 years, with political rights often suppressed by the authorities.

Neither Chen's supporters nor prison authorities were immediately able to explain why the article could not be published.

Taipei Jail, where Chen is serving a seventeen-and-a-half-year term, confirmed the former president had been barred from publishing the commentary, but said it did not reflect general policy.

"For long, we've encouraged inmates to write articles, because we think it's a good way for them to reform," said Su Kun-ming, a jail official.

"But in this case, we feel the inmate's article may cause controversy and be bad for maintaining the jail discipline," he said.

Chen has called his trial and prison term a vendetta carried out by Taiwan's current Beijing-friendly government in retaliation for his

pro-independence stance during his 2000-2008 term.

Tensions between Taiwan and China were high during Chen's eight years in office, with Beijing often expressing anger at his vocal calls for a separate identity for the island.