“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out ... Then they came for the Jews, but I was not Jewish so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
These are the famous words of German pastor Martin Niemoeller during World War II about not stepping forward sooner and speaking out against the Nazis.
Considering the various controversial social and judicial incidents that have arisen in the past three years, many cannot help but be reminded of Niemoeller’s statement as concern brews over what further absurdity could happen next if a majority of the public continues to stay silent on what happens to other people.
Such apprehensions were renewed as the public was treated to news that three protesters who appealed to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) last year over the issue of land expropriation for the construction of an elevated railway in Taoyuan had been indicted, with prosecutors recommending a seven-year sentence for each one of them.
While prosecutors charged the protesters with obstruction of public affairs and violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), accusing them of inciting a scuffle with police, the defendants told a press conference on Tuesday that they had been tricked by the police, who apparently changed the protest venue at the last minute and started pushing the crowd before turning around to pin the blame on the protesters.
As the case awaits a final ruling from the judges who convened a hearing yesterday, indictments with such heavy sentences for people airing their grievances are nonetheless dumbfounding. The indictments are even more absurd when one considers another report yesterday in which a Taiwanese software engineer convicted of gathering classified information on Taiwan’s Patriot missile defense system on Beijing’s behalf was sentenced to a mere one-and-a-half years in jail.
So, a convicted spy receives only a slap on the wrist, whereas civil protesters face hefty sentences? What has become of the nation’s social justice?
When individuals waving national flags had them boorishly snatched away by police when Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visited Taipei in November 2008, many among the public chose to remain silent, thinking such incidents only happen to political activists. When farmlands in different parts of the country were razed by bulldozers because of the government’s controversial expropriation projects, many also kept quiet. They thought themselves lucky they were not farmers, and hence, need not get involved. And now with the plight facing the residents of Taoyuan, some may still think it is none of their business and thank God they are not among the affected residents.
For people harboring such social apathy, it may only be a matter of time before it hits home and they find themselves at the center of controversy and under the hot glare of the media spotlight.
Timely outspokenness and persistent pressure are needed to deal with any arrogant and unjust display of power before more people suffer social injustice and the nation’s standing as a free and democratic country deteriorates further.