Last month, film director Ko I-chen (柯一正) led a flash mob protest in which demonstrators lay down on Taipei’s Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office and embodied the Chinese character for “person” or “human being” (人) for 30 seconds, shouting: “I am a human being! I oppose nuclear power!” After the protest, the police called Ko in for questioning and the tax authorities started investigating his company. The incident caused a public uproar, but then Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said on Friday that the police had overreacted, the interrogation was called off and the tax investigation came to a close.
The reaction to Ko’s protest suddenly made it feel as if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the government it dominates remain fascist in spirit even though almost 25 years have passed since martial law was lifted and the roots of democracy have been firmly planted in the Taiwanese mind. If Ko had just been called in for questioning, that could have been chalked up to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), but what is the connection between a flash mob protest and a tax investigation?
The tax authorities jumping in as if they were the government’s lapdog shows that someone in the KMT or a government agency wanted to teach Ko a lesson, either as a warning or to force him into submission. The old KMT dictatorship frequently made examples of its enemies to warn off others, and the sudden return of such repression is a warning to us all that the Martial Law era may not be so firmly in the past.
Not even nuclear power experts dare endorse the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and all its accompanying irregularities. The might of the whole government bureaucracy has not been able to dispel public concern, but it continues to insist on commencing operations once the power plant is completed. When seven anchor bolts broke in the second reactor of the Guosheng Nuclear Power Plant in Wanli District (萬里), New Taipei City, Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) and government authorities were unable to provide a clear explanation of the problem and were only interested in restoring the plant’s operations as soon as possible. When reports and press conferences by anti-nuclear activists were ignored by the government, activists resorted to more creative means to bring the authorities’ as well as the public’s attention to this issue. Nuclear protests are a public issue and a manifestation of the right to freedom of expression. The flash mob protest did not interfere with anyone’s rights or interests and had only a very limited impact on traffic.
If the police and tax authorities had proceeded with their investigation of Ko, this incident would have resulted in a strong backlash and left a stain on Taiwan’s human rights record. Luckily, Hau, who seems to have realized what would happen, resolved the situation. Still, Wu Nien-jen (吳念真), another movie director, hit the nail on the head when he said: “Regardless of whether it’s a big or small issue, paying attention to who settles it is very important.”
The conclusion of the incident makes it all but obvious that for the current government, personal rule continues to override the rule of law.
The quick eruption and subsequent resolution of the incident throws a spotlight on Taiwan’s hopes and disappointments. Any individual or organization has the right to voice their opinion on public issues and although the flash mob left no physical trace, it did make other forms of impressions. The protesters expressed a positive message in their attempt to promote public participation from all walks of life. However, the incident also suggested that the government and Taipower are still both backward and reactionary, and that the spirit of authoritarianism is alive and well within this KMT administration, which is deeply disappointing. This is a lesson that the government must take to heart.