The past week has witnessed the appearance of the Wild Strawberries Student Movement (野草莓學運; see website), formed in the aftermath of state attempts to curtail peaceful expressions of free speech during the visit of ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin 陳雲林. These actions prompted over 200 students to launch a sit-in outside the Executive Yuan, and after being evicted from their original location the students transferred the sit-in to Liberty Plaza (自由廣場). They have received petitions of support from over 500 university professors, while other sit-ins have been staged throughout the island.
At this point in time, the movement's goals include: 1) Apologies from President Ma Ying-jeou 馬英九 and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan 劉兆玄; 2) The resignations of National Police Agency Director-General Wang Cho-chiun 王卓鈞 and National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Chao-ming 蔡朝明; 3) Amending the Parade and Assembly Law (集會遊行法) by removing an article that obliges rally organizers to apply for police approval prior to staging an event.
The students have had to cope with a wide range of "tests", including bad weather, midterms, convincing politcal figures not to take part, and coping with the occasional oddball trying to take advantage of the sit-in to make her or his own statement. Whether this movement will be as successful as the Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運) of the 1990s remains to be seen. The number of participants has been relatively low, but both the ruling and opposition parties have responded positively to the possibility of amending the Parade and Assembly Law. However, there has as yet been no response to student insistence on apologies and resignations. Student protests have always been a thorn in side of Chinese governments, be they imperial dynasties, authoritarian states, or democracies; it will be interesting to see how things progress.
In other news...
1. An 80 year-old former KMT party member attempted self-immolation near the sit-in to protest heavy-handed police actions against protesters carrying the ROC flag at sites Chen Yunlin was visiting. He is hanging on to life in the Taiwan University Hospital ICU.
2. Former President Chen Shuibian 陳水扁 has been placed in detention following 6 hours of questioning at the prosecutor's office and a marathon 11-hour detention hearing interrupted by a trip to the hospital to investigate Chen's claims that he had been roughed up by court bailiffs (doctors determined that he had only suffered a minor muscle tear). The hearing concluded with the judges voting 2-1 in favor of detention on grounds that Chen might tamper with evidence against him.
This action marks the temporary conclusion of a formal investigation into allegations of corruption by Chen that began on May 20, the date of Ma's inauguration. He is now the tenth person being detained in connection with the case. As Chen was led out from the prosecutor's office, he put his handcuffed hands in the air and shouted "Political persecution! Long live Taiwan!" He has only drunk water during first day of his detention, which suggests that he may be initiating a hunger strike.
3. Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen 蘇治芬 is persisting with a hunger strike to protest her detention on charges of corruption. She is now being kept alive through a court-ordered IV drip. For a moving letter she wrote to her son, click here.
Here are some aspects of what penal detention in Taiwan entails: up to four months confinement in a small cell with just one hour of exercise per day, a rectal examination each time one re-enters the cell block (to prevent the smuggling of contraband), etc...all without having been formally indicted, not to mention convicted of a crime. To be clear: for centuries (if not millennia) corruption has been a scourge of civilization. Politicians guilty of such crimes deserve to be locked up in a dank and dark dungeon...but only following a conviction resulting from a fair trial. One should also note that while corruption cases in Taiwan have been quite common over the years, it is relatively rare for accused politicians to be subjected to detention. There are increasing fears that Taiwan's reputation as being governed by the rule of law is being eroded, and it might be worth considering this recent comment by AIT Director Stephen M. Young (楊甦棣): "The only thing I would say (about the Chen case) is that not only Taiwan, but your friends around the world would be watching the process very closely. And we believe it needs to be transparent, fair and impartial."
Like the student sit-ins, protests against the above-mentioned detentions have been relatively limited in size (celebrations over Chen's detention have also been muted). Some people may be disgusted by the moral decline of DPP politicians, while others may be intimidated by recent wave of detentions. All in all, however, it seems that most people are just too busy trying to make ends meet to engage in acts of protest. However, recent events have led to a sense of sorrow and frustration...and only six months after the new government was sworn in. Let us hope for a brighter future.
Note: In the interests of sustaining a harmonious blogosphere, all references to Taiwan as a country or nation have been omitted from this post.