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Ceremony held to mark exoneration of 3,062 political victims

2019/07/07 19:38:17

Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊, left) and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文, second left)

Taipei, July 7 (CNA) The government held a ceremony Sunday to mark the exoneration of Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊), former Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and 3,060 others who were wrongly executed or unjustly convicted during the White Terror era, as part of its efforts to implement transitional justice.

The ceremony was organized by the Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) at the Sheraton Grand Taipei Hotel, which stands on a plot of land that formerly housed the then-Kuomintang (KMT) regime's military law bureau. The bureau's detention center was once used to lock up political prisoners.

The 3,062 people are on the third and fourth lists of exonerated political victims published by the commission Feb. 27 and May 30, respectively. Some of them attended the ceremony in person, while others had died and were represented by their families or friends.

One of the victims was Chen, who was convicted of "attempting to subvert the government using illegal means" in 1980 over her role in the Formosa Incident the previous year.

Six other former members of the pro-democracy Formosa Magazine, including Lu and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairmen Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介) and Shih Ming-te (施明德), also faced the same fate.

The Formosa Incident occurred when the magazine organized a demonstration in Kaohsiung Dec. 10, 1979 to commemorate Human Rights Day and call for democracy in Taiwan. Clashes broke out after the police tried to close in on the protesters and fired tear gas.

"During the White Terror era, many political prisoners were detained where we are standing now, waiting for their trial or sentence," Chen said. "Some only stayed here briefly before being sent to Machangding for execution, leaving behind their unfulfilled dreams and wrongful convictions."

Machangding, which is in today's Wanhua District in Taipei, was home to a designated area for the execution of political prisoners and alleged communist agents during the period of authoritarian rule, which started in August 1945 and ended in November 1992.

Chen said many political victims and their families have been waiting for decades for the exonerations, which may not take away their traumatic experiences, but will at least ensure that those still alive will not leave this world with an unjust guilty verdict for pursuing freedom and democracy.

Another exonerated political victim who attended the ceremony was Chen Chin-shen (陳欽生), a Malaysian who was studying in Taiwan in the 1970s when he was wrongfully accused by the KMT regime of having joined a communist party in Malaysia and attempting to subvert the government in Taiwan.

"I was charged with violating Item 1, Article 2 of the Punishment of Rebellion Act, which carried the death sentence. Although I managed to escape death, I was still given a heavy sentence of 12 years," Chen Chin-shen told the ceremony.

Under Item 1, Article 2 of the Act, which was abolished in 1991, violation of Article 100 of the Criminal Code was punishable by death. Article 100 of the Code, which was amended in 1992, provided the legal basis for the imprisonment of people suspected of plotting to overthrow the then-KMT government.

Chen Chin-shen said that seeing his name on the list of exonerated people should have made him happy, but he added that the move cannot undo the suffering that many political victims like him had gone through during the White Terror era.

"We still have questions. Why throw us into jail? Where is the truth? Where are the perpetrators?" Chen Chin-shen asked, urging concerned government agencies to step up efforts to restore the truth so that "no more elderly political victims will die with regrets."

In her speech, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) pledged to expedite the government-led efforts to implement transitional justice, including uncovering the truth behind the Formosa Incident and the 1981 death of democracy advocate Chen Wen-chen (陳文成).

Thanks to concerted efforts by the Legislative Yuan and the Executive Yuan, an act designed to declassify and archive political files kept by government agencies and political parties during the White Terror era cleared the legislative floor July 4, Tsai said.

"Regarding political files related to the Formosa Incident and Chen's death, which are currently categorized as permanently classified, I will lead national security agencies in reviewing such documents' level of classification in accordance with the new act and endeavor to restore as much truth as we can," the president said.

Only by promoting transitional justice, restoring the truth and learning from the past can Taiwanese society move past its historical wounds and grow into a more mature democracy, she added.

Tsai then joined Chen Chu, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), Legislative Speaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), TJC Acting Chairwoman Yang Tsui (楊翠) and Control Yuan President Chang Po-ya (張博雅) in unlocking a cage of lilies to symbolize the freeing of political prisoners. They later handed the flowers to the participants.

The commission, which was established in May last year, had previously marked the exonerations of 2,775 political victims from the White Terror era at two separate ceremonies last year, bringing the total to 5,837.

(By Stacy Hsu)