Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Today Dapu, Tomorrow the Government" - Protests for the Dapu Forced Demolition Continue

Four days after the demolition of the Miaoli Dapu residents’ homes, activists, supporters and the residents came to the President’s Office again and this time, to issue an ultimatum to the central government. 

Changs' wedding photos
Activists and residents brought the remains of the Chang Pharmacy and displayed them on Ketagalan Boulevard.  Old photographs of the Chang family - Mr. and Mrs. Chang’s wedding, Mrs. Chang with her first born, family vacation and good old times.  There was also a pot and a pan, a water flask, a bowl, legal documents from the on-going lawsuit with the county government, and Mrs. Chang’s ripped and torn clothes – one of her favorite shirt, and another she didn’t have a chance to wear before. 

Mrs. Chang, or Peng Hsiu-chun(彭秀春), was being interviewed by reporters when I arrived.  I was relieved to see her looking better than I expected; however, I also know she is doing everything she can to hold herself together, just as she has done in the past three years. 

The press conference started on 10 o’clock.  The organizer asked Peng to say something everyone.  Mrs. Chang told the horror story of leaving her home in the morning and coming back in the evening, finding the home she lived and raised three children in demolished and all of her properties gone.

On the Miaoli County Government’s website, County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung(劉政鴻), in a press release on the July 18th demolition, stated the county government has hired “professional moving company” to pack the Chang’s belongings and keeping them in storage.  What is even more outrageous is the money the Miaoli County Government offered the Chang’s for their land, NT$ 24,2000, is the same amount, the county government is charging the Changs to demolish their homes.  In other words, the Chang family would receive no compensation for the government taking their land and destroying their homes.

Official Miaoli County Government announcement
On demolition day, the workers were seen packing what they perceived as valuables, like refrigerator, television and other appliances.  Remains of the Chang’s house were trucked over to three different dumpsites 30 minutes from their homes and dumped on the premise, along with personal items the Changs had.  Volunteers and Peng Hsiu-chun dug and sorted through the rubbles all weekend in hopes to salvage some of her belongings.  Fortunately, Peng was able to find a bag of her hold photographs, a pair of old gold cufflinks, some old coin collections from her children and other things. 

Members of the Laid-Off Workers Alliance(關廠工人陣線) were also at the press conference to lend their support.  Taiwan Rural Front (台灣農村陣線) spokeswoman, Professor Frida Tsai(蔡培慧), issued an ultimatum to the central government, especially to President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih, Premier Jiang Yih-huah.  Professor Tsai said the Dapu residents and their supporters are giving the central government until August 18th, exactly one month to the date of demolition, to respond with solution to resolve the matter; otherwise, the group calls for supporters to “Tear down the government”.  The group chanted the movement’s slogan, “Today Dapu, Tomorrow the government (今天拆大埔, 明天拆政府)”. 

“For my friends, anything - For my enemies, the law”

These words of former Peruvian President Óscar R. Benavides seems fitting in describing what has been happening in Taiwan in the past few weeks with regards to the Dapu demolition case. Law enforcement at the direction of the National Security Bureau have arrested professors, students and supporters for demonstrated at locations where the president, vice president, the premier and the Miaoli county commissioner attended events. The charges ranged from violation of Public Safety Act, obstruction to police business to violation of the Parade and Assembly Act.

Police taking Hung Chung-yen away
Yesterday (July 23rd), supporters of Dapu residents went to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (衛生福利署), where President Ma and Premier Jiang were scheduled to be at the opening of the new ministry to voice their discontent.

By the time I arrived Ta Cheng Street (塔街) in Tatung District, there were already tremendous police presence. As soon as I approach Ta Cheng Street, a line of police officers blocked my path, as scuffle broke out simultaneously in different surrounding area.

“Are you a student?” one of the police officers asked me.
“No, I’m not a student”, I said.
“You’re not a student?” he asked again, looking me up and down.
“Really, I'm not a student, but I’m happy that you thought I look like one”, I said jokingly.
“It’s those professors,” he said to me, “they bring these students here, create all kinds of ruckus and they don’t take responsibilities for the students behavior.  There are formal procedures to follow, and they are allowed to express their opinion in the designated area”.

As the cop was finishing his sentence, I heard loud chanting and four police officers carrying Hung Chung-yen(洪崇晏), a student of the National Taiwan University, from the other side of the street and dropped him on the ground right in front of me. Chung-yen got up and immediately held up his banner again and started chanting, “Rebuilt Dapu!”

I then saw another protesters attempted to enter the enclosed area but were stopped and blocked by the police.

Police dragging Lin Fei-fan away
I returned to the line of cops and started snapping photos of students being chased, surrounded, pushed back and carried away by cops. I also saw the police erected the warning sign to ask the protesters to leave. The protesters didn’t listen and kept chanting, “Today (you) tear down Dapu, Tomorrow (we) tear down the government!”

"Ay!” I heard a long sigh coming from a skinny cop standing in the police line.  
"What’s going on? You seem to have something on your mind”, I said.
“If I were off work, I’d go with them,” the cop said, “I'll tell you one thing, I am moved by is the students’ passion and determination”.

I was completely surprised by this police officer’s candidness. The same police officers would later told Hung Hsiang (洪箱), the chairwoman of the Wanboa Community Development Association, that his heart was with them.

Another more senior looking police officer also told me he has seen increasing protests in recent years and months. "It's ok, I'm out here standing around, so I can lose some weight", he said.  I have to say, most of the police officers I met were polite and professional.  Some are even very helpful.

We then heard loud female scream, and I saw Chung-yen, who was protesting further ahead fell back to the ground. The police officers prevented me from approaching the crowd to investigate, but a few minutes later, an ambulance sped toward us. As we moved to the side of the road, I realized the ambulance was for Chung-yet. I found out later that Chung-yet had split his head open on the sidewalk, after the police tackled him.

The line of police blocking me was called toward the Ministry building where the president was, because more protesters have managed to move closer to Ministry building. As I moved with the police toward the protesters, I saw two police officers dragging Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), the convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, away from the crowd. Fen-fan threw both his hands up, shouting the slogan, as the police dragged him away.

Police blocking protesters
I also learned later, the police also dragged Professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) of the National Chengchi University away rather brutally, once to move him even further away from the police barricade and the second time, to move him to a police vehicle putting him under arrest. The police said at the time of arrest Professor Hsu was in violation of the Public Safety Act. Just Professor Hsu was sitting on the sidewalk and chanted a few slogans as the president’s motorcade went by?

The prosecutor released Professor Hsu twelve hours later without charging him with any crime due to insufficient evidence.

What I also discovered, after monitoring so many protests in the past months, is the presence of plain clothes unidentified men at these protests. Most of them look mean and thuggish. I’ve seen them at the demolition of Huaguang Community, and I saw them again yesterday. Those men not only refused to identify themselves when asked, they were also extremely aggressive and rough with the young protesters. They’d push, shove, drag and pull the protesters to remove them from the scene. I saw a man in a white t-shirt pick up a small female student and threw her against a wired fence at the Huaguang Community.

In addition, there were also increasing attempts to prevent journalists from taking photographs or filming. The same thing happened at the Huaguang Community forced demolition as well.

It was also an unidentified man who gave the order to arrest Professor Hsu and to drag the students away. The same man also refused to identify himself. The students later tracked him down as a commander from the Tatung Police District.

Many academics, including law professors have signed petitions condemning the behavior of the police and the National Security Bureau. As of now, the list of names continues to grow.

Protests Continue

Undeterred by yesterday’s events, the students were at it again today.

After finding out the Miaoli County Commissioner was scheduled to come to the Legislative Yuan to promote the pears of Miaoli County, the students gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan to protest. Legislative assistants also came out of the gates of the Legislative Yuan to demonstrate support for the Dapu residents. Commissioner Liu didn't show up at his own event, but reporters later discovered he was hiding inside the Legislative Yuan barber shop, getting a hair, a massage and having his earwax removed. Liu also told reporters he has no regret tearing down the Dapu residents’ homes.

Legislative assistants supporting Dapu
There were two other protests today. One in front of the Kuomintang headquarters, where the central standing committee was meeting, and another one at Howard Civil Service International House where Vice President Wu Den-yih(吳敦義) was an attendee to an event.

The Dapu supporters have promised to bloom like wild flowers (遍地開花), and they are keeping their promise. The protesters also demand four things from the government:
1) Apologies from President Ma, Vice President Wu, Premier Jiang and County      Commissioner Liu and compensate the victims of forced demolition.
2) Return the acquired land to the residents.
3) Investigate the legality and possible corruption involving County Commissioner Liu’s development projects.
4) Amend the Land Expropriation Act to protect the public rights

Tomorrow, film directors and other members of the art industry will hold a press conference in support of the Dapu residents.

The protests for Dapu demonstrated that civil society in Taiwan is very much alive and well. The quality of Taiwan’s democracy is maintained through civil and political participations like these. This is one fortunate thing that stemmed from the tragedy of Dapu.

To be continued…

(All photos by author)

Mrs. Chang and her damaged property

Bento box

Litigation documents 
Water flask


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Demanding Justice - Rally for Corporal Hung Chung-chiu

Early Saturday morning, tens of thousands protesters, most of them wearing white, held a protest rally in front of the Ministry of National Defense (MND).  The protesters demanded MND to provide truth under of a young soldier’s horrible death at the hands of his superiors.  The protesters were unsatisfied with the speed of MND’s investigation and the lack of arrests three weeks after Corporal Hung’s death.  The event was sponsored by an activist group named “Citizens 1985”, with 1985 as the number to the Ministry of National Defense’s anonymous tip and complaint line. 

In the past few weeks, the death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) of the 542nd Brigade, a graduate student from the National Chung Kung University’s Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science, is the most talked about and discussed news in Taiwan right now.  Not only does the case involves military officers violating protocol when sending Corporal Hung to confinement, it also involved cruel and excessive punishment imposed on Hung, even after he raised his hand several times to request a break. And worst, the drilling officers denied him water after Hung begged for some on several occasions.

The cause of Hung’s death, according to one of Taiwan’s most respected media examiner, Kao Ta-Cheng (高大成), who also attended Hung’s autopsy at the request of the victim’s family, was Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), which was triggered by rhabdomyolysis and heat exhaustion. 

Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fiber, which leads to the release of muscle fiber, a protein named “Myoglobin” into the blood stream.  Myoglobin is damanging to the kidney, and rhabdomyolysis is caused by heat exhaustion.  When DIC is caused by rhabdomyolysis, it leads to the formation of small blood clots inside of the blood vessels throughout the body.  As these clots destroys the coagulation proteins and platelets, blood is unable to clot and abnormal bleeding occurs under the skin and through the body.  According to Dr. Kao, Corporal Hung received 12000CC of blood transfusion at the hospital, which amount to double an average adult’s blood volume.  In other words, Corporal Hung’s body no longer was able to clot his own blood.  Upon arrival, Corporal Hung’s body temperature was 44℃, where 38℃ is already considered as feverish.  When one’s body temperature is around 41℃, the possibility of death increased to 30%.

My father, who was a graduate of Kaohsiung Medical University, continues to shake his head as he watched Dr. Kao’s presentation on Corporal Hung’s physical condition on television.  “The boy died a horrible death,” my father exclaimed, "This shouldn't have happened".

The official investigation by the military’s prosecutor’s office is still on going.  As of now, the Vice Commander of the 542nd Brigade and staff sergeants were detained.  There is also suspicion of military personnel tampering with the evidence, which include a key video of Hung’s last days and the minutes leading up to Hung’s dispatch to the hospital.  The country eagerly awaits the official investigative report from the military’s prosecutor’s office.

The Rally 

As we approached Bo-Ai Road on Saturday morning, one can already hear the loud sound from the activity truck.  Passersby wore various white shirts moving in unison toward the front door of the Ministry of National Defense.

When I arrived the designated area of the protest, there were already a lot of people there.  The composition of the crowd consisted mainly young men.  There were also young women mixed in the crowd, but another very visible group of participants were mothers.

I spotted Huang Mama, Chairwoman of the Human Rights for the Armed Forces (軍中人權促進會), whose son also died of very suspicious circumstances, standing near me.  Our eyes met, and I greeted her briefly and utter a few words of encouragement.  She nodded, smiled and continued monitoring the protest.  Through the protest, I saw her facial expressions changed from contemplative to smile to pride and sometimes to sadness with tears in her eyes. 

Huang Mama
There were also many parents of soldiers who died under suspicious circumstances at the protest.  One of the most visible was Mr. and Mrs. Chen, whose son reportedly committed suicide under a blanket, in his dorm room with others sleeping right next to him.  According to the ministry, Mr. and Mrs. Chen's son used a box cutter to sever his right carotid artery and wind pipe, three times, and then cut his own arms ten times.   

Very quickly, Bo-Ai Road was taken over by participants with no space to move.  The participants extended to as far as I could see.  It was an incredible scene.  At around 11am, the organizer announced that the number of participants had exceeded 30,000 thousand.  

After the skit, where young men doing push-ups begged for water with the drill sergeants loudly refused, organizers and participants also sang songs for the armed forces with modified lyrics. The actors also recited the water verse from the military before drinking water several times.  The signs of this rally were less colorful than the other rallies, but the messages were clear.  The public wants the truth without any coverup. 

The rally hit another emotional high when Corporal Hung’s uncle, who, since the tragedy, has become one of the family’s spokesperson (another one is Hung’s older sister), went on the activity truck to thank the participants.  The rally attendees responded with words of encouragement, cheer and applaud. 

Very soon after the organizer made the announcement that the attendees would stay in front of MND for as long as it requires to have someone with high enough ranking to come out and receive the petition letter consisted of three demands, the organizer informed the participants that someone significant has arrived to receive the letter.

I then saw a solemn looking Andrew Yang (楊念祖) climbing up the truck.  The organizer announced to the crowd that it was the deputy minister who would collect the plead letter.  The crowd erupted in cheer. 

Andrew Yang accepted the letter from the organizer and addressed the crowd in a determined voice.  He asked the crowd to give the MND once more chance to properly conduct its investigation and to right the wrong from the time on.  He promised justice for Corporal Hung and his family.  Deputy Minister Yang then apologized on behalf of the Ministry of National Defense.   

There were reasonably anger from the crowd; however, I also sense the feeling of support for the Ministry of National Defense and especially members of the military, as many commented that members of the military are the ones who were, are and will defend Taiwan against external threats.

The rally ended on a positive note as the participants disbanded for a few hours of rest in preparation of the vigil for Corporal Hung and other soldiers who died under suspicious circumstances while serving in the military. 

About seven thousand showed up for the candle light vigil, including Corporal Hung’s older sister and uncle.  The road in front of the Legislative Yuan was filled with participants.  The participants used candles to form the characters for “Justice”, “Human Rights” and Truth” and to surround Corporal Hung’s portrait.

As investigation of Corporal Hung’s death continues, there is some hope for more transparency of the treatment of members of armed forces and the call to end corruption.  President Ma went to visit Corporal Hung’s family yesterday as he promised a thorough investigation and to reveal the truth of Hung’s death.  Lets see if President Ma keeps his promise on this occasion, his past records notwithstanding.  

(All photos by author)
Corporal Hung's Uncle addresses the rally participants 

Reciting the water verse and drinking water

Su Beng Ojisan at the protest

Volunteers for the skit

The sad mothers were the most heartbreaking rally participants 
Mrs. Chen who lost her son last year