Boy's murder sparks death penalty debate in Taiwan

The murder of a 10-year-old boy whose throat was slit in a Taiwan playground has reignited a debate over the death penalty after the suspect reportedly said he was anticipating free board and lodging in jail.

Protesters, outraged over reports the 29-year-old suspect said he would get life in prison at most "even if he were to kill two or three", gathered at the justice ministry Thursday to demand the island's death row inmates be executed.

Public anger has mounted after the suspect in the weekend killing was quoted in the media as saying he "targeted kids because they were less likely to fight back", and that he wanted to go to jail to avoid paying for living expenses.

There are currently 61 death row inmates in Taiwan, caught in limbo partly by a lengthy legal process and partly by a virtual moratorium on executions. The longest-serving of them has been waiting to be executed for 25 years.

Taiwan reserves the death penalty for serious crimes including aggravated murder, kidnapping and robbery, but the political elite is divided about whether to maintain it.

"We demand the government abide by the law and enforce capital punishment to maintain law and order in our society. We oppose abolishing the death penalty," said Angela Wang, head of a child welfare promotion association.

As the government has not carried out any execution in nearly two years, some criminals are getting the impression that they will avoid the death sentence even if they commit murder, said Wang, one of Thursday's protesters.

The brutal killing of the young boy has triggered heated debate on the Internet in recent days, with most arguments in favour of swift execution of the island's death row inmates.

"I strongly demand the justice ministry immediately carry out all executions! Immediately!" said a typical message on an online forum run by the mass-circulation United Daily News paper.

The Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, however, maintained in a statement that the punishment was wrong, arguing innocent people could be put to death.

A lingering debate on abolishing the death penalty was renewed recently as judicial and military authorities came under fire over the execution of a soldier wrongly convicted in a child murder case.

Chiang Kuo-ching, a 21-year-old serviceman executed by shooting in 1997, had insisted he was innocent and that he was coerced by a group of air force intelligence officers into confessing.

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