ISSUE 38                                                                                          May 7, 2020
Taiwan Weekly
Reliable report and analysis of the most important issues in Taiwan
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● This Week in Taiwan: 
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2014 Sunflower Protesters Found Guilty, Overturning Previous Ruling
On March 23, 2014, protesters of the Sunflower Movement who opposed the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services with mainland China stormed and occupied the Executive Yuan.
(Photo from: China Times)
Featured News
Taiwan High Court Reverses, Finding 2014 Sunflower Movement Protesters Guilty for Occupying Government

China Times, April 29, 2020


Six years ago, Sunflower Student Movement protesters invaded and occupied the Executive Yuan. Wei Yang, leader of the Black Island Nation Youth Front activist group, along with six individuals, were prosecuted for incitement. They were acquitted in the first instance by the Taipei District Court. The prosecution appealed. The Taiwan High Court held that the seven were guilty of inciting others to storm the Executive Yuan and clash with the police, and the acts were not protected as free speech under the Constitution. The High Court reversed the original innocent verdicts and sentenced the seven defendants to two to four months in prison.


Another eight defendants in the same case were charged of obstructing officials in the performance of public duties. The Taiwan High Court upheld the Taipei District Court’s verdicts of sentencing  three to five months in prison. Two of them used hydraulic shears to damage the police's barbed wires and barricades, and each was sentenced to 4 months. The jail sentences may be commuted to fines.


Wei said that he could not accept the result when informed of the guilty verdict. Lawyers affiliated with the Judicial Reform Foundation expressed regret and disappointment with the judgment. The legal team will decide whether to appeal after discussing with its clients.


Wei and other Sunflower Movement activists who were occupying the Legislative Yuan called on people to advance to the Executive Yuan on the evening of March 23. The masses pulled heavy quilts over the barbed wires and broke into the Executive Yuan complex. Some gathered at the square in front of the  entrance to stage a sit-in protest, and some burst into the minister without portfolio, violently clashed with the police, and even pushed police officers down the stairs.


The Taipei District Prosecutors Office prosecuted 93 people. After President Tsai Ing-wen took office in 2016, the Executive Yuan withdrew the suits against 87 individuals for intrusion into public buildings.


Wei and others were still charged for obstructing official duties, as these publicly prosecuted charges could not be dropped.  In the first instance, the Taipei District Court sentenced 11 individuals to three to five months for vandalizing public property and obstructing official duties. Seven individuals, including Wei, were prosecuted for inciting others to commit crimes but were found to have no subjective intent and were acquitted.

The High Court maintained that the Executive Yuan was not a free-access place to the public. At the time of the student movement, the Executive Yuan had strengthened the security measures. Police were instructed to guard the complex. Demonstration and rally were banned. No one was allowed to intrude and impair police carrying out official duties.


The judicial panel found that it was the policy of the Executive Yuan at the time to sign the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services with mainland China, and there were both opponents and supporters. However, opponents overwhelmed the police, stormed, and occupied the Executive Yuan. These brutal means have exceeded the boundary of rational and peaceful expression.


The High Court further held that the flaws in the legislative deliberation could be redressed through normal channels, but Wei and six other individuals used slogans such as "charge, occupy, surround the police, take down the Executive Yuan, and paralyze administrative operations” as well as Facebook to incite others to unlawfully intrude and obstruct official duties, which was neither necessary nor constitutionally protected speech. For these reasons, the High Court overturned the acquittals and found the defendants guilty.


Featured Editorial
Protesters destroyed doors and windows and forcibly broke into Executive Yuan offices and claimed official items.
(Photo from: United Daily News)

Taiwan High Court Finds 2014 Sunflower Protesters Guilty, Returns to Judicial Essence

United Daily News, April 28, 2020


Different from the case prosecuting the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan, which returned a not-guilty verdict, the Taiwan High Court found yesterday the occupation of the Executive Yuan by Sunflower Movement supporters on March 23, 2014 unlawful and guilty. The ruling reversed the original finding by the Taipei District Court. It is certainly a bombshell for today’s activist “awakened youths.” However, upon carefully reviewing the whole incident, the guilty verdict is a return to the correct path of justice.


The Sunflower Student Movement was a three-week long protest against the “Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services” with mainland China. It was led by mostly university students who occupied the Legislative Yuan from March 18 to April 12, 2014, in order to block the vote to ratify the trade pact in the Legislative Yuan. Opponents initially claimed that the movement was meant to protest against the injustice caused by procedural defects. Therefore, they declared that this movement as “civil disobedience”, and based on this rationale, they would not be guilty for occupying the Legislative Yuan. The Taiwan High Court later accepted this rationale and affirmed that the Sunflower Movement was justified, reasoning that there were no alternative means to stop the abuses of law and political power.


Yet, was it so? First, democracy is based on regular elections, and transfers of political power are normal phenomena. Any disputed legislation should be resolved through democratic processes. The mastermind and key figures during Sunflower Movement are now moved in the ruling chain such as legislators, party main figures, and ranking officials. In any case, even if the trade pact had passed, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) can easily abrogate the agreement with a dominant majority in the Legislative Yuan. Accordingly, the truth is far from civil disobedience serving as the last remedy, which was alleged by the protesters.


Second, civil disobedience is based upon two fundamental elements: non-violence and non-evasion of penalty by the judiciary. Looking back at the two lawsuits brought by the protesters against the Legislative Yuan and Executive Yuan, respectively, neither of these two cases fits the said elements. Especially the Executive Yuan case, which saw a violent and massive clash between the police and rioters.


More ironically, real advocates of civil disobedience do not claim themselves innocent. Yet those perpetrators and participants who occupied the Legislature Yuan and Executive Yuan all proclaimed themselves innocent. They even asked the related government officials to withdraw lawsuits against them. When it did not work, then they defended themselves by saying that they were “onlookers” instead of “perpetrators” and “kept order” instead of “instigated the crowd to make disturbance”. The protesters’ attempt to avoid penalty under law is a move astray from their original pursuit. Is this truly “civil disobedience?”


Surely, the Sunflower Student Movement protesters gathered a significant amount of societal support and can be viewed as a successful movement. The DPP took advantage of this social movement and consolidated its ruling basis. However, we should understand that whether the political stand be successful is one thing, and whether justice is maintained is another. All evidence submitted by the prosecution against the protesters were complete. What the court needs to do is to focus on the evidence to decide and affirm if the evidence fits the charges. In this realm, there is no need for political propaganda and commentary on public policies.



Featured Opinion
Concerning the recent reversal by an appellate court finding the protesters guilty, former Premier Jiang Yi-huah remarked that justice often arrives late, but it ultimately comes.

Why Taiwan’s 2014 Sunflower Protest is Not Civil Disobedience

By Jiang Yi-huah, April 27, 2020


Justice often arrives late, but it ultimately comes.


On March 23, 2014, protesters of the Sunflower Movement stormed the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and threatened to paralyze the government. They used hydraulic shears and crowbars to destroy roadblocks and overwhelmed the police with large numbers. They violently demolished the doors and windows of the Executive Yuan, arbitrarily seized office items, and ransacked internal facilities. Then, using “civil disobedience” as a defense, the protesters claimed that all criminal activities were only a “legitimate peaceful demonstration.”


Since Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2016, the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen immediately withdrew all pending lawsuits against the Sunflower Movement, so as to credit the protesters who contributed to the DPP’s victory. At the same time, the Sunflower protesters filed suit against President Ma Ying-jeou, the premier, national police commissioner, and Taipei City police chief, claiming intent and attempt to murder. The litigation has been ongoing for the past six years.


However, it is evident that the demonstration which stormed the Executive Yuan was not peaceful protest, and the Sunflower Movement was certainly not “civil disobedience.”  


The Sunflower Movement likes to selectively emphasize that protesters were sitting “peacefully” chanting slogans but were forcibly evicted by the police. But they never answer how they carried iron-made equipment to demolish the gates of the Executive Yuan weighing several hundred kilograms, violently pushed police officers who were responsible for protecting the Executive Yuan, and even attacked the police performing their official duties during the eviction process.


When the prosecution indicated their undeniable criminal acts, the protesters began chanting the great slogan of “civil disobedience,” claiming that the government was dictatorial, martial, and unjust, so all of their illegal behavior were just acts against tyranny. However, in political theory, “civil disobedience” refers to civilized and non-violent protest against laws or policies, accompanied by a willingness to bear the legal consequences of illegal actions. The Sunflower Movement’s attack and occupation of the Executive Yuan does not conform to any of the aforementioned standards.


The 2014 Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan cannot be considered “civil disobedience” for the following reasons:

  1. The protesters attacked the police violently, occupied the parliament, and stormed the Executive Yuan, instead of marching peacefully or sitting in protest.
  2. They claimed that there was no remaining alternative to discuss the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services when the pact only passed the committee within the Legislative Yuan and still needed ratification by the general assembly. There remained opportunity for protesters to express their opposition.
  3. The protesters accused the government of implementing authoritarian martial law, so in addition to opposing the agreement, they demanded a new constitution or constitutional amendment, not recognizing the legitimacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.
  4. After they gathered a crowd, instigated the masses, invaded government buildings, and destroyed public property, the protesters did not admit to their criminal behavior and have been unwilling to bear the legal consequences.

If the Sunflower Movement were to be considered civil disobedience, then all illegal atrocities can claim to be civil disobedience. Unfortunately, there was no way to discuss all of this at the time of the protests. Only after the passion of the movement was over can the points be slowly clarified and rationally debated in the courtroom.


Now, the Taiwan High Court, based on a spirit of judicial independence not affected by political forces and Internet armies, has duly ruled against all those who violated criminal law. The greatest significance of this ruling is that democracy must be based upon the rule of law, and a mass movement which sought to occupy constitutional government institutions but are unwilling to bear the legal consequences cannot call itself “civil disobedience.”


Since the ancient times, justice has often arrived late, but ultimately it will come.


The author formerly served as premier of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2013 to 2014.



 This Week in Taiwan

April 28: The fire at the Cashbox Partyworld karaoke (KTV) bar on Linsen North Road in Taipei caused six deaths and dozens of injuries. The cause of the fire is supposedly related to charging the battery of an electronic range finder in an elevator project. Due to the elevator project, the building’s sprinkler and broadcast system were turned off, and the fire-fighting equipment was virtually useless. Seventeen branches of Partyworld suspended business for a week. Family members of each dead victim were given NT$1.1 million (about US$36,800) in condolence money. The Taipei City Government also conducted emergency security checks and ordered several movie theaters and KTV bars who failed the checks to close.

April 28: In Taiwan, more than 4 million people use sleeping pills every year, amounting to 900 million pills, but sleeping pills have potential side effects including sleep-walking and dream-driving. The Ministry of Health and Welfare announced a ban on prescribing sleeping pills containing ingredients zaleplon, zolpidem, zopiclone, and eszopiclone to patients who have experienced complex sleeping behavior after use.

April 30: Chang Ching-yi, the reporter for Shanghai Dragon Television who stated that he is from Taiwan in response to U.S. President Donald Trump, was determined by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) to have violated the Act Governing Cross-Strait Relations. According to the MAC, Chang violated the provision that Taiwanese citizens may not hold positions in the mainland Chinese party, government, or military. In its regular press conference, the MAC stated that the government has fined 37 people who have illegally served in mainland China. The authorities are currently investigating 88 people, including Chang.

May 1: The well-known Tayih Landis Hotel Tainan will go out of business at the end of June. In recent years, the number of new hotels in Tainan has surged, making the operation of older hotels more difficult, worsened by the impact of the pandemic. Mayor Huang Wei-cher said that the announced closure reflects the plight of the hospitality industry.

May 1: On July 3 last year, railway policeman Lee Cheng-han handled a case involving a man who evaded ticket check on board. The man stabbed the policeman to death with a knife. The Chiayi District Court ruled the defendant innocent due to his mental illness of schizophrenia. The innocent verdict stirred widespread controversy. The Chiayi District Prosecutor’s Office quickly brought an appeal asserting that criminal conduct should not be excused by mental disorders. According to the Office of the President, President Tsai Ing-wen supports the prosecution’s decision to appeal.

May 2: The Central Epidemic Command Center announced three new confirmed cases, bringing the total up to 432 confirmed cases. Although there were no additional domestic confirmed cases for 20 consecutive days, the announcement broke the record of zero which had persisted six consecutive days. Starting May 4, overseas travelers with elderly, infant, and chronic disease patient members at home must stay at designated epidemic-prevention lodging for 14 days. Violators will incur a fine of NT$150,000 (about US$5,020).

Taiwan Weekly is a newsletter released every week by Fair Winds Foundation and Association of Foreign Relations that provides coverage and perspectives into the latest developments in Taiwan.

The conclusions and recommendations of any Taiwan Weekly article are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views of the institutions that publish the newsletter.

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