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298-year term spurs Taiwan adultery talk

AFP-JIJI

A Taiwanese widow who faced the theoretical possibility of 298 years in prison for an affair with a married man has rekindled the debate over the island’s controversial adultery laws.

The woman, 56, who was unmarried during the five-year affair, was told she must serve two years in prison or pay a fine of 730,000 Taiwanese dollars ($24,300).

But court officials said she had faced a possible 298-years prison sentence after judges used confessions from the pair to estimate they had held a total of 894 trysts in various motel rooms — under Taiwanese law, each offense was worth up to four months in prison. Judges at the district court in Changhua county reduced the sentence.

The man, 50, avoided legal punishment altogether after his wife, who had filed the complaint against them after learning of the affair, decided to forgive her husband and drop the lawsuit against him.

The case sparked new calls for adultery to be decriminalized.

“Taiwan is one of the few countries in Asia where adultery remains a criminal offense,” said Lin Mei-hsun, deputy executive of the nonprofit Modern Women’s Foundation. “In the Changhua case, why was the woman punishable while her former lover escaped a legal punishment? This was unfair.

“To some extent, adultery should be decriminalized as we feel that women should have the right to decide who they love and who they have a sexual relationship with.”

Taiwan’s judicial authorities have been reluctant to drop adultery as a criminal offense, citing public opinion. The latest poll by the Justice Ministry in May showed 77.3 percent of respondents said “no” when asked if they supported decriminalizing adultery.