Tuesday, July 23, 2013

‘Today Dapu, tomorrow the government’ (中文 link at bottom)

As more protests erupt over the demolitions, disturbing trends in law enforcement call for close scrutiny

Eight years ago when I relocated to Taiwan, I never thought that one day, working as a journalist, I would be covering actions by people in this young democracy that, more and more, have the characteristics of guerrilla warfare. No, bombs are not going off and the military is not being attacked by small groups of men bearing assault rifles. But as people become disillusioned with an increasingly predatory government and a legislative and judicial system that cannot be counted on to ensure justice and fairness in this land, Taiwanese are standing up — and the outrage at Dapu (大埔) in Miaoli County last week appears to have lit a fire.

Peng Hsiu-chun, victim
Ever since people’s homes were torn down on the orders of the bandit Miaoli County Commissioner last Thursday, activists — a mix of students, artists, academics and NGO members — have embarked on a series of flash protests targeting senior government officials for their indifference to suffering, possible complicity in the act, and years of lies. Almost everywhere they go, senior officials are met with protests, and the leaders of the campaign have promised that those actions will not cease until justice has been met. At the weekend, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters, abuzz with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) ridiculous “re-election” bid for chairmanship of the party, was egged by activists, and a number of his campaign activities encountered small but pointed protests.

The tactic seems to be working: on Monday, after being interrupted by protests during an event promoting the alleged virtues of the cross-strait trade agreement to be signed next week, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) complained to the press that his efforts to talk about the pact had been “hijacked” by the protesters, who must feel terrible for making the premier uncomfortable.

Press conference on Ketagalan
The protests continued this morning with a press conference on Ketagalan Boulevard, a few hundred meters away from the Presidential Office and a sizeable turnout of police officers in riot gear and rolls of barbed wire. During the event, the Taiwan Rural Front and allied organizations issued an ultimatum against the government, warning it that if by August 18 — exactly one month after the demolitions — the government has not apologized for the demolitions and returned the land stolen from its owners (ostensibly to make way for a science park, though their properties were located on the peripheries), there would be hell to pay.

Remains of lives
As Taiwan Rural Front spokeswoman Frida Tsai (蔡培慧) and a number of academics railed against the government, Peng Hsiu-chun (彭秀春), a soft-spoken housewife and owner of one of the properties torn down last week, displayed the remains of family items — clothing, wedding photos, the bowl that she had used for the past decade — that were buried under the rubble of their home and subsequently dumped in a field.

After the press conference wrapped up, activists and journalists jumped into cabs and headed for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, where President Ma and Premier Jiang were attending an unveiling ceremony. Before I joined them, I tool a long look behind the line of police officers at the area in front of the Presidential Office, where I had covered the protest last Thursday, and where a senior police officer pushed me and, as I have related already, told me to leave because this was not my country.

Police awaits
As it turns out, after the protest had ended on July 18, something else happened that raises serious questions about the state of affairs in Taiwan. Unfortunately it occurred after I had left to go cover another unrelated protest, but thankfully it was caught on film and posted on the Internet. Based on the footage, police started asking anyone who was still in the area to show their I.D., and those who refused were immediately taken away and held for as many as three hours. Those acts were purportedly made legal through the creation of a “special district branch” which we’ve never heard of. Combined with the growing number of plainclothes and other individuals bearing no uniform or insignia used by law enforcement during protests (including today), such developments should give us pause.

Lin Fei-fan is taken away
The voluble cab driver took us to our destination on Tacheng St near Taipei Main Station, where several police officers were cordoning of the area. Little by little, as the protesters converged on the Ministry of Health and Welfare, clashes erupted, and once again police zeroed in on well-known protesters, including Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) and Hung Chung-yen (洪崇晏), and prevented them from going any further. Clashes erupted almost simultaneously in various areas, often pitting a few men against large groups of police officers, or a pair of female officers against a single female demonstrator.

I then heard a loud scream and ran across the street, where I came upon Hung, blood dripping from a large gap at the back of his head. For a second, I feared that the tissue paper that was falling off the back of his head was actually brain matter. Hung had fallen during an altercation with police and knocked his head on the pavement. He remained defiant, stood up and holding a banner, but he was eventually taken to hospital, where he received three stitches under the guard of police officer, who then tried to take him to the police station, but were prevented doing so by friends of Hung who accompanied him at the hospital.

Hung, injured, defiant
Word is now going round that the authorities have identified Hung as a “security threat,” with conflicting reports mentioning possible orders from the National Security Bureau (NSB) or the National Security Council. Upon hearing this, I could not help think of the NSB’s inability to properly defend the country against Communist infiltration, or the many instances where visiting Chinese officials got away with molesting or raping young female staff at hotels. And yet Hung, a student of philosophy at NTU, is a threat to national security? Update: It’s confirmed, the NSB is involved.

I snapped more pictures of clashes and protesters chanting the slogan”[You] tear down houses in Dapu today; [we] tear down the government tomorrow,” and then followed a small group of activists as they tried to come in from another direction. Immediately, more clashes occurred, with a goon-like fridge of a man in a green T-shirt, but otherwise no identification, helping police with dragging protesters away.

Professor Hsu is dragged away and arrested
Then I came upon Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮), a gentle professor of land economics at National Chengchi University (NCCU), as a group of police officers dragged him away across the street. Hsu has taken up the cause of the victims of Dapu and has actively sought justice for them, participating on protests and visiting Dapu on several occasions. Police claimed that Hsu had violated the Public Safety Act (公共危險罪) and arrested him. According to the professor and several witnesses, his only crime was to shout the same slogan that activists had been shouting all morning. As police were taking him away, young activists surrounded them, screaming “excessive police force!” Pictures that later emerged showed serious bruising on Professor Hsu’s armpits. Activists were able to track down the police officer who’d ordered Hsu’s arrest, who refused to identify himself or talk to them, saying “the investigation is supposed to be private,” whatever that means. There is something about the pictures that I took of Professor Hsu that I find … haunting. Hsu was later released for “lack of evidence.”

Chen Wei-ting speaks up
Ma and Jiang left and the protests ended, the police officers melting like ice cream on this extremely hot July morning. Most went into the shade, where oddly enough they struck conversations with some of the protesters. I sat down next to Lin Fei-fan, realizing I’d not had water for a while and feeling dizzy. The cops, seeing a long foreigner sweating like a pig, were amused. The atmosphere was rather out of place, coming as it did minutes after the clashes and the anger. Many cops said they were just doing their job, and a good number of them didn’t really seem to know what the groups were protesting against. A few said that if it’d been their day off, they’d have joined the protest — in jest, I’m sure. (All pictures by the author)

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