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Taiwanese Professor Arrested in Protest Against Forced Demolitions

A professor in Taiwan along with a number of student protesters were arrested [zh] during a demonstration against the forced demolition of homes to expand Jhunan Science Park in Miaoli County, Taiwan.

Hsu Shih-Jung (徐世榮), a professor of the Department of Land Economics at National Chengchi University, was yelling a protest slogan, “Today you demolish Taipu, tomorrow we demolish the government”, when Taipei police officers arrested [zh] him on July 23, 2013. He was transferred to the local police station and indicted [zh] on the charge of endangering the public. Hsu was released on the next day and the charge against him dropped as the jury did not agree with the police's accusation.

Hsu was one of the attendees in a negotiation meeting between protesters against expropriation of rice fields in Jhunan and the Executive Yuan represented by the then Prime Minister of Taiwan Wu Den-yih in August 2010 after a 72-year-old woman committed suicide in protest. In that meeting, an agreement was made that four houses own by four different families located at the margin of the science park would be preserved.

However, endorsed by Wu Den-yih, who is now the current vice president of Taiwan, the Miaoli County government ordered these four families to move before July 5, 2013 for demolition.

Protestors painted a huge mural on the wall of Chang's house. Photo taken by Taiwan Rural Front from.

Protestors painted a huge mural on the wall of Chang's house. Photo taken by Taiwan Rural Front from.

Outraged by the Miaoli government's violation of the agreement, protesters had gathered together around the four houses to defend them against expropriation for more than two weeks. Chang who is a Pharmacy is one of the four families who resist moving. Their house is located at the junction of Justice Road and Love Road and hence become a symbolic site for the protest.

On July 18, while most protesters went to Taipei to protest in front of the president's Office, Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-Hung, ordered police to expel the rest of protesters who were gathering in front of the homes ordered several excavators to tear the houses down. Even though the houses were destroyed, protesters refused to leave and kept on demonstrating.

Since professor Hsu Shih-Jung had attended the negotiating meeting back in 2010, he explained the land expropriation in Jhunan is against Taiwan's Constitution [zh] in his blog on July 16, before he joined the protest in Taipei on July 18:

土地是人們溫馨及賴以為生的家園,絕不可隨意予以侵害。那麼,何時才能剝奪?[…]必須是符合《憲法》第23條「促進公共利益」才得以為之。何謂公共利益?吳庚前大法官一針見血的指出[…]「在多元社會須持續的透過公開討論形成共識」才是公共利益,但我國現行相關的計劃體制卻嚴重缺乏這樣的思維與設計,致使基本人權遭致嚴重剝奪。

People depend on their land for building their family and house, such rights cannot be infringed. Such rights can only be exploited when the decision is in alignment with Amendment 23 in the Constitution: “The enhancement of public interest”. What is public interest? The Grand Judge, Wu Keng-Chien, pointed out […] “A consensus through public deliberation in a diverse society” is public interest. However, our urban planning system has not incorporated such concept or process. Thus our basic human right has been seriously violated.

我國相關計劃體制對於公共利益之決定,仍然停留於威權時代的委員會專制模式,也就是由少數人所組成的都市計劃委員會、區域計劃委員會、土地徵收審議委員會等來決定。

In Taiwan, the definition of public interest in urban planning is dominated by a group of minority political elites in urban planning committee, local planning committee, and land levying committee. This is a residue of the authoritative era.

在這些委員中屬「主管業務機關首長或單位主管」及「有關業務機關首長或單位主管或代表」,就幾乎佔了一半[…]因此真正的多數其實是政府行政官僚。首長不僅沒有利益迴避,也幾乎完全掌控議案同意權,這表示公共利益少數人即可掌握生殺大權。

In these committees, half of their members are from the administrative unit and related government organizations. […] In fact, most of the committee members are from the government. The leading cadre does not avoid conflict of interest. Moreover, the leading cadre always forces these projects to be passed. As a result, the so-called ‘public interest’ is controlled by a handful number of people.
Sit-in protest after the house was torn down. Photo taken by Taiwan Rural Front.

Sit-in protest after the house was torn down. Photo taken by Taiwan Rural Front.

In fact, independent reporter AboutFish from citizen media outlet Taiwan Good Life pointed out that the decision to expand the Science Park has led to an increase of local government debt. Members of Miaoli community do not benefit from the project, on the contrary, each resident has to shoulder 73,000 new Taiwan dollars (approximately 2,320 US dollars) government debt. The public debt in Miaoli has reached 41 billion new Taiwan dollars (1.29 billion US dollars) and potential debt to emerge is 10.3 billion new Taiwan dollars (33.5 million US dollars).

Echoing Aboutfish's report, professor Hsu explained [zh] the embedded interest in land expropriation by local governments:

政府財政赤字嚴重,所需財源由何而來?政府不僅不敢對政經權勢優位者下手,而且還給予各式各樣的減免與優惠;但面對社會弱勢時,卻是強勢介入,隨意取走他們的土地。透過區段徵收,地方政府約略可取得三分之一的土地,經由這些土地的標售與讓售來彌補財政。再者,地方派系的主要利基乃是土地投機炒作,透過區段徵收也可遂行鞏固及拉攏樁腳的政治目的。

How can the government earn the money they need when they face a budget deficit? The government does not dare to get money from those wealthy and powerful people. Instead, the government provides these people exemption and preferential. On the other hand, the government intrudes in the lives of the disadvantaged minority and takes their land away without their agreement. Through sectional land acquisition, the local government can obtain one-third of the land they want. They can sell the acquired land to make up for the budget deficit. In addition, the local interest groups usually make money by investing the real estate. By expropriating the land section by section, the local governor can build up a strong relationship with the local interest groups and make sure they can win their political support in return.

Protesters continue to demonstrate, asking the government to return the expropriated land, investigate these scandals, and revise the related law.

Professor Hsu was yelling: Today you demolished Taipu, Tomorrow we demolish the government, when the police dragged him away. Photo taken by 陳韋綸 from coolloud.org. Non-commercial use.

Professor Hsu was yelling: Today you demolished Taipu, Tomorrow we demolish the government, when the police dragged him away. Photo taken by 陳韋綸 from coolloud.org. Non-commercial use.

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