Nowhere has Cohen’s influence been felt more acutely than in Taiwan. Taiwan’s current president, Ma Ying-jeou (LL.M. ’76), and the country’s former vice president Annette Lu were Cohen’s students in the late 1970s.
In 1985, Lu, a leader in the democratic reform movement, was in a Taiwanese prison, serving a 12- year sentence for sedition. At Cohen’s request, Ma, then an aide to President Chiang Ching-Kuo, and Cohen visited Lu. Shortly after, Lu was freed; she has credited Cohen, who asked Ma to push for her release, as well as the efforts of human rights groups.
Also in 1985, Cohen served as a pro bono representative of the widow of Henry Liu, a Taiwanese- American writer murdered after sharply criticizing Taiwan’s one-family rule. After a Taipei district court convicted reputed gangsters of the murder and gave them life sentences, Cohen publicly dismissed that trial as “a well-rehearsed performance,” designed to hide the government’s role. During a second trial before a higher court (life sentences in Taiwan are automatically reviewed), Cohen was permitted to cross-examine the defendants and the implicated military officials. The three defendants’ sentences were upheld, and Taiwan’s military intelligence chief was later convicted for his role in the murder. Under pressure from the U.S., Taiwan lifted martial law in 1987.
More recently, Cohen’s advocacy of the Rule of Law has sometimes put him at odds with officials from both the ruling and opposition parties, and even the Ma administration. Ma was elected president in March 2008 and chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party in July 2009.
Last November, Taiwan’s past president (and Ma’s political foe) Chen Shui-bian was charged with crimes that allegedly netted him and his family millions. While Cohen applauded the arrest, saying it showed that Taiwan would uphold the law, he later criticized the government’s handling of the case.
First, Cohen condemned as unfair the switch of the case from a threejudge court that released Chen without bail, pending prosecution, to a court that kept him detained for many months, before and during the trial. Then, Cohen criticized the “increasingly disturbing circus atmosphere,” citing reports that at a dinner attended by the minister of justice and others in the legal elite, prosecutors performed a skit mocking Chen. Cohen called on Ma to take swift action to ensure Chen’s right to a fair trial.
Through a spokesman, Ma responded that he would not intervene, though he “hopes that the judiciary will behave in a way that does not induce improper political reactions on the part of the public.” At press time, Chen’s trial was still underway. He has denied all charges.