Fri, Nov 14, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Speak now or forever be silent

“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.”

Many are familiar with these words penned by German pastor Martin Niemoeller, who initially supported Adolf Hitler but was later imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II.

Niemoeller’s poem, with its haunting last line — “Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up” — depicted his atonement for not stepping forward sooner and speaking up against the Nazis.

After being lauded by the international community for its progressive achievements on the path toward a mature democracy, little did Taiwan know that it would all come back to this. Many are asking if the nation is about to sink back into the dark age of Martial Law. Will the people remain mute in the face of what has brazenly been taking place in this country these past few months?

From the abrupt detention of Chiayi County Commissioner Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to the shockingly abusive manner the police employed to disperse protesters during the visit of Chinese envoy Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) last week; from police monitoring of Taipei City councilors’ activities to the Taichung County Government checking whether any civil servants had taken any days off during Chen’s visit from Nov. 3 to Nov. 7 — all these have aroused concern at home and abroad that democratic values and human rights have suffered under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.

At home, groups of college students across the country have since Thursday last week staged a sit-in to protest against police brutality in dealing with the demonstrators and to urge President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) to apologize over the matter. Abroad, some 20 academics specializing in Taiwan affairs in the US, Canada and Australia last week issued a joint statement expressing their concern over the detentions of opposition politicians being held incommunicado without charges, warning that these “arrests could signal an erosion of Taiwanese democracy.”

All these voices, however, do not appear to be enough as Liu arrogantly declared, in response to the students’ demands, “that kind of thing [the sit-in] will blow over after a couple of days.”

Both Ma and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) have also insisted time and again that the police had done nothing wrong and there was no need for an apology.

Six months into Ma’s presidency and the public has already witnessed a disillusioned senior citizen setting himself on fire in protest, politicians staging hunger strikes and students holding a sit-in protest.

Continuous pressure is needed to deal with the government’s arrogant display of power.

Some people laugh off talk of a return to White Terror or the Martial Law era. Perhaps they have to wait for the time they are stopped by police on the street, their iPods checked or their blog entries removed before they would remember Niemoeller’s words and wonder what would have happened if they had only spoken up sooner.

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