Taiwan's Wild Strawberry Student Protest Challenges the Inequities of the Nation's Laws

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Thursday November 13, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As long as Taiwan has Wild Strawberries, the country will maintain its democracy. Just as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in its will to maintain a one-party state miscalculated the will of the people and the strength of their determination in the Kaohsiung Incident on Human Rights Day (December 1979), so too, a generation later, the KMT is attempting to stonewall the Wild Strawberries who similarly are protesting against police abuse. The protest is also aimed at the continued failed action of the Legislative Yuan (always dominated by the KMT) to amend the harsh Parade and Assembly Law existent in Taiwan as a substitute for martial law. Following is the protest statement of the students who belong to no political party

Protest Statement

Starting on November 3, with the visit of representatives from China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) to sign various agreements with our government, police officers have engaged in numerous abusive acts against peaceful protestors from various dissenting groups, under the guise of "keeping the peace." These acts have included arbitrary searches and prohibitions, seizure and destruction of property, physical assault, dispersion and even arrest and detention. The vast majority of the victims of this police brutality were nowhere near ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin, and were simply passing, standing, or photographing various areas when they were victimized.

Through reports in the media, we have come to realize the seriousness of the current situation. It is no longer a technical question of excessive law enforcement tactics, nor is it simply a partisan issue between supporters of various political parties. This is a proliferation of state sponsored violence that is provoking and attacking civil society. All these oppressive acts, which ignore human rights and democratic values, are reminiscent of martial law. Even legislators from the ruling party have expressed concern over this issue to the Executive Yuan, only to see the chief authority - Premier Liu, dodge responsibility while providing only the flimsiest of excuses. We are stunned and outraged by this response, as well as ashamed and increasingly uneasy.

We must ask: Does increasing cross-Strait exchange require Taiwan to lower its standards of freedom and democracy, in order to achieve the same level of repressive authoritarian rule that China has? In only a few short days, the liberal democracy that the people of Taiwan have fought so hard for has nearly collapsed amid massive police presence in the city, and the atmosphere of fear and repression that it brings. Behind its police state-like barricades, our government remains blinded by its delusions of a "meeting of historic proportions," and indulges itself in its receptions and banquets. Through this all, the peoples' constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech and movement have been cast aside, and even forgotten.

As many of their actions are unconstitutional, it is not surprising that not a single police officer before the cameras has been able to definitively state what law empowers them to carry out the orders issued to them by their superiors. Police officers are supposed to be civil servants charged with protecting the people. Yet under the outrageous requests issued from above, they have become thugs restricting and punishing the people for expressing their opinions. We have no intention of blaming individual police officers who can only obey orders issued by their superiors. Rather we solemnly demand that the highest authorities in the government bear the largest share of political responsibility for these abuses.

We are simply a group of university professors, students, cultural workers, and citizens who are concerned about Taiwan's current state of disorder and future development. At 11AM on November 6, without any support or mobilization from any political party or civic group, we will assemble at the gate of the Executive Yuan in black clothes and face masks symbolizing our painful protest, and will join hands sitting in civil disobedience until our requests are met. Our requests include.

  1. President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan must publicly apologize to all citizens.
  2. National Police Agency Director, General Wang Cho-chiun and the National Security Bureau Director Tsai Chaoming must step down.
  3. The Legislative Yuan must revise the Parade and Assembly Law which currently restricts the rights of the people.

The students were later forcibly removed from the gate of the Executive Yuan and driven by the police to inaccessible parts of the city; however they had a back up plan and regrouped at Taiwan Democracy Hall and Memorial where they are now still in protest.