Saturday, April 12, 2014

Here we go again

A day after the Sunflower Movement vacated the legislature, thousands of people we back outside the building, this time to protest police action

Just a little more than 24 hours after the Sunflower Movement evacuated the Legislative Yuan (LY) following a 24-day occupation, about 2,000 people assembled in front of the building on the night of April 11, this time to protest a police crackdown in the morning and an announcement by police that a protest group that has occupied the area for the past four years would no longer be allowed there.

The trigger was the forceful removal of protesters from the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan outside the LY at 7am on April 11 after Zhongzheng First Police Precinct chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧) had promised the group at 2:30am that they would not be forced out. The Alliance, which has become a fixture outside the legislature in the past four years, is led by Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴), a pro-independence activist and civil engineering teacher at Syracuse University and NTU.

As police began forcefully removing members of the Alliance and their supporters on the morning of April 11, Tsay reportedly walked into incoming traffic on Zhongshan Rd. in front of the legislature and was hit by a motorcycle. Accounts later claimed that Tsay was nearly run over by a bus, but video footage of the incident shows the vehicle approaching very slowly, suggesting that the driver had seen Tsay, who by then was lying on the ground. Tsay was subsequently taken to hospital for treatment. (This was not the first time for Tsay; I first met him in April 2010 as he was fighting a case involving an incident on Sept. 8, 2009, when he collided with a car leaving the legislature.)

As they were being evicted, police also announced that the Alliance’s permit to camp outside the LY was no longer valid and that its presence would no longer be countenanced. The move sparked a protest outside the Zhongzheng First Police Precinct on Gongyuan Rd, where about 2,000 protesters gathered from 7pm, calling for Police Chief Fang to step down. Fang appeared outside the precinct accompanied by Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and offered to resign if he’d done anything wrong. At about 11pm, the crowd left the area and headed for the LY, where they launched a sit-in in defiance of the police order. Although the legislature was heavily guarded by police, the 2,000 or so protesters were left alone as activists made speeches.

Protesters gather outside Zhongzheng First District
Although the catalyst was police action against the Alliance, the protest outside the Zhongzheng District Police station was spearheaded by individuals who had played senior roles in the Sunflower Movement, which had occupied the legislature since March 18. While many of the young Taiwanese who took pare in the movement tended to distance themselves from Tsay’s strong pro-independence rhetoric and hankering for self-promotion, sympathy appeared to have taken over them on the evening of April 11. Furthermore, many of them were also probably aware of a recent ruling by the Council of Grand Justices a few weeks ago striking down a clause in the Assembly and Parade Act — a leftover from Taiwan’s authoritarian era that neither the DPP nor the KMT ever sought to correct — requiring police approval for rallies and protests. So once again, government mechanisms, this time the set of laws regulating people’s democratic right to protest, animated young Taiwanese and brought them out on the streets.

A bit of background is in order. Fang has been a regular figure for anyone who has participated in, or observed, protests in the past 24 months. As the C.O. at the scene, the police chief had earned a rather unenviable reputation as the force behind the decision to force out, drag, and load onto buses protesters who were agitating over the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), forced evictions and home demolitions (e.g., Dapu). Fang received a demerit earlier this year — unfairly, in my opinion — for his “failure” to prevent the crashing of a 35-tonne truck into the Presidential Office by a disgruntled former Air Force officer. He was also the C.O. on Beiping Rd. behind the Executive Yuan (EY) on the night of March 23-24 when riot police used excessive force against unarmed civilians.

His bad reputation notwithstanding, Fang did a commendable job on April 1 when Bamboo Union gangster Chang An-le (張安樂) and about 600 of his betel nut chewing nutcases held a protest near the LY, preventing what could have been a bloodbath had the protesters been able to come near the activists around and inside the legislature. That night, I went over to him and thanked him for a job well done — I even commended the work of the police officer who had pushed me and told me to get lost during a protest in front of the PO on July 18, the day that four houses went down in Dapu.

Though reviled, Fang isn’t the one who must go. His boss, National Police Administration Director-General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞), is the one who needs to step down. Wang’s alleged ties with the Four Seas Gang, one of Taiwan’s main triads, are already grounds for dismissal, not to mention the role that he played in the bloody crackdown at the EY on March 23-24.

So as the Sunflower Movement promised on April 10, the battle continues. Police behavior and citizens’ right to assemble and protest — and the government’s denial of such rights — is now part of the narrative of contention. (Photos by the author)

No comments: