Friday, August 23, 2013

State-sponsored intimidation

In what surely was a break with protocol, police officers were present at a hearing in Taipei this week to discuss safe distances for wind turbines. And they had their cameras turned on the villagers

While the Dapu (大埔) “crisis” is receiving all the attention nowadays, people from Yuanli (苑裡), a little chunk of land in Miaoli County, also continued their long battle this week against the German wind turbine firm InfraVest (英華威集團), which with government complicity has been allowed to gerrymander environmental regulations and erect wind turbines too close to residents’ homes.

As I have exposed in a previous article, the firm has already relied on “muscle” — hired thugs, really — to keep protesters at bay and, when necessary, to rough them up, while police looks on. Police inaction over the repeated incidents isn’t altogether unsurprising, given that the entire local force seems to be under the direct control of Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) and that of his thuggish family.

Now, there is nothing new in collusion between county chiefs, the local police, and the judiciary, an unholy triumvirate that is well ensconced in Liu’s Miaoli. But there is more. Inexplicably, the central government and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have equally backed up Liu, whose haughtiness and indifference to his constituents’ suffering (not to mention four highly suspicious “suicides” by individuals close to his administration) may well have made him the most despised individual in the nation.

That includes InfraVest. For months now, the central government — including the National Police Administration — has ignored the violations in Yuanli and basically gave the firm’s thugs a green light to act as an extrajudicial force.

It gets worse. On Aug. 20, the Bureau of Energy, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Presidential Human Rights Advisory Committee held a meeting in Taipei to discuss the matter of adequate distance for wind turbines and, we are told, to “maximize public participation.” However, there were so many procedural problems with the meeting, which was termed an “experimental hearing,” that it is difficult not to regard it as a joke — if only public money were not wasted on it.

For one thing, the “experimental hearing” had no authority to enforce anything; it was just people talking. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that (we’re all for all sides in a dispute to sit down and try to reach a consensus), here’s the catch: Before the hearing had begun, a large number of individuals associated with InfraVest had “signed up” for the event, which left precious few seats for Yuanli residents and environmental NGOs. In other words, opponents of the project were selected out even before the hearing was held. Oddly, many of the people who had registered never materialized during the meeting.

It gets better. Several police officers and members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were inside the venue during the hearing, which in itself is an odd departure from protocol. Moreover, several law enforcement officers held video cameras; individuals who were present (I failed to attend it myself) told me the cops only filmed whenever the villagers were speaking or asking questions. The inevitable intimidation associated with this act, and the selectiveness of its targets, are evidently cause for worry. It made suspects of individuals who have done no wrong, while clearly telling them that the powers that be are clearly siding with the local government and the German firm.

This is highly improper and warrants further investigation. But in the current environment, where the state and the corporate sector are increasingly showing disdain for individuals who stand in their way, there is little to be surprised about. (Photo by the author)

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