Former president cleared of using excessive force during protests

09/15/2020 09:06 PM
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Protesters being hit by police water cannons at the Executive Yuan/CNA file photo on March 24, 2014
Protesters being hit by police water cannons at the Executive Yuan/CNA file photo on March 24, 2014

Taipei, Sept. 15 (CNA) Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), former Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and two former police officials were found not guilty on Tuesday of ordering the use of excessive force to evict protesters from the Executive Yuan during the Sunflower Movement protests of 2014.

In a case before the Taipei District Court, representatives of the late Chou Jung-tsung (周榮宗) had sought to privately prosecute Ma, Jiang, former National Police Agency Director-General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞) and former Taipei Zhongzheng First Police Precinct chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧) for attempted murder, bodily harm and coercion, based on their involvement in a police operation alleged to have caused Chou's death.

Unlike typical criminal cases, which are led by state prosecutors, private prosecutions can be filed by representatives of a victim who is of limited legal capacity or dead, under Article 319 of Taiwan's Criminal Code.

Chou suffered internal bleeding after being hit by police water cannons during protests at the Executive Yuan on March 23, 2014 and died the following year at the age of 76.

In the case brought by Chou's heirs, lawyers for the plaintiff alleged that at 7:30 p.m. on March 23, 2014, Ma personally directed Jiang to order the clearing of protesters who had staged a sit-in in front of the Executive Yuan.

The timing of the alleged order corresponds with when a contingent of the protesters stormed and occupied the building, which is generally seen as having precipitated a large-scale police operation to evict protesters that evening.

After speaking to Ma, Chou's lawyers alleged, Jiang ordered Wang and Fang to "clear the Executive Yuan complex," resulting in a police offensive in which excessive force was used against protesters.

In a ruling on Tuesday, however, the Taipei District Court found the four defendants not guilty on all charges, stating that while Chou had clearly suffered bodily harm, his lawyers did not put forward evidence sufficient to find Ma and the other defendants criminally liable.

In its verdict, the court noted that under Article 6 of the Assembly and Parade Act, protests at the Executive Yuan can only be held with government approval.

In this instance, the protesters not only failed to obtain permission, making the gathering illegal, but had in part used non-peaceful or violent means to enter the Executive Yuan building, the court said.

According to the ruling, the decision to evict the protesters was made by former Taipei City Police chief Huang Sheng-yung (黃昇勇) in order to maintain public order and the normal operations of a constitutional body.

Wang's order to send reinforcements for the operation was legal and did not constitute an abuse of power, the court found.

Meanwhile, while Ma and Jiang were notified of the operation and expressed approval, there is no evidence that they gave police a deadline or pressured them to clear the protesters from the site by a specific time, the verdict said.

Additionally, based on video footage of the protests, the court ruled that the police actions were proportional to the situation and decided to find Fang not guilty for his role in commanding the operation.

In response to the verdict, volunteer lawyers for Chou expressed disappointment that six years after an act of "state violence," no one had been held responsible.

"Taiwan's judiciary has again chosen to allow those with power in the police chain of command to hide behind bureaucracy and avoid accountability," the legal team said in a statement.

Ma's office, meanwhile, praised the court for "protecting the rule of law and extending justice" with its ruling.

No democratic country with the rule of law would allow thousands of protesters to trespass and cause damage to property in an attempt to paralyze the operations of government, the statement said.

The verdict can be appealed.

The student-led Sunflower Movement of 2014 was driven by opposition to a proposed free trade agreement with China, which Ma's then-ruling Kuomintang attempted to pass in the Legislature without a clause-by-clause review.

Protesters opposed to the bill occupied the Legislature on March 18 and only departed the chamber on April 7, after receiving assurances from then-Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) that the bill would be postponed pending additional review.

The protests are credited with propelling a new generation of activists into political prominence, including Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), now deputy secretary-general of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, and several figures from the New Power Party.

(By Liu Kuan-ting, Lin Chang-shun and Matthew Mazzetta)

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