As members of the Taiwan Justice Rescue Force step up their campaign to free imprisoned Chen Shui-bian they become targets of police determined to squelch their protests. On Friday, Aquia Tsay, Taiwan’s leading democracy advocate was forced to the ground after being placed in a chokehold at the Taipei Railway Station during a demonstration. Meanwhile, over at the Republic of China in-exile presidential office building, another group of Chen supporters was assaulted by police.
Leading the attack on a gray-haired man was a tall policeman nicknamed “190” by protesters because of his height. In December, “190” was one of the policemen that violently pulled Aquia Tsay and two other Rescue Force members out of a car at the Democracy Camp site. Aquia went to the hospital with a concussion and the other two suffered bruises, scrapes, and sore necks.
The police violence against demonstrators at the presidential office building was caught on video and the plight of a gray-haired man was captured by the camera. The man was forced over to a police car and when a woman tried to intervene to stop the manhandling of the gray-haired man she too became a target. The woman passed out from the crush of police and collapsed on the street. Rather than provide any medical attention they dragged her limp body to the side of the demonstration area and dumped her there to recover on her own.
The elderly man at the center of attention in the video is no stranger to close contact with police. On International Human Rights Day two months ago the man was protesting Ma Ying-jeou at an event in Taipei. Because police were then surrounded by news media covering Ma’s speech they merely pushed the gray-haired man out of an aisle instead of giving him the kind of unwanted attention he received at the presidential office building.
The street protests are part of an growing campaign to secure the release of Chen Shui-bian from prison. Chen, the former ROC president from 2000 to 2008, has been jailed since soon after leaving office. Chen was charged with corruption and sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence following a controversial trial.
Chen Shui-bian has had a harsh prison life, confined 23 hours per day in a tiny damp cell with no furniture, not even a bed. Denied requested medical care, Chen’s health has seriously declined in jail and he now is confined to a hospital cell on a locked psychiatric unit in a government hospital.
Because the allegations against Chen Shui-bian involved corruption, leaders of Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party have largely sidestepped Chen’s plight for fear of being linked to corruption allegations themselves. The silence of party leaders on Chen has led to groups like the Taiwan Justice Rescue Force and street demonstrations to argue Chen’s case.
Supporters of Chen Shui-bian are calling for immediate medical parole, a new trial with a jury, and other reforms. Academics who have studied Chen’s case say that not only did the former leader not get a fair trial but that his prosecution is politically motivated and orchestrated in Beijing by the Chinese Communist Party. In Taiwan, the Kuomintang is the dominant party and has adopted a “one China” policy that parallels the Communist dogma. With the KMT moving closer to the CCP, the scholars argue that Chen’s advocacy of Taiwan independence is what is behind his troubles.
The United States, which is the “principle occupying power” of Taiwan under the San Francisco Peace Treaty that ended World War II with Japan, has been officially silent on Chen Shui-bian. The American Institute in Taiwan monitors news on Chen but leaves all decision-making and action to Washington, D.C. where the mantra is no comment.
The sixty-seven year “strategic ambiguity” that clouds Taiwan’s international status now swirls around Chen making the former leader a one-man metaphor for the island’s future and raising the probability of more clashes between police and Chen supporters who have taken his case to the streets.