On Tuesday, Minister of the Interior Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) said that his ministry and the Miaoli County Government have agreed to rebuild Chang Pharmacy, which was torn down during an incident in Dapu Borough (大埔) in the county’s Jhunan Township (竹南) in 2013.
On July 18 that year, then-county commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) ordered that the pharmacy and three other buildings be torn down as residents were protesting in Taipei.
Two months later, the pharmacy’s owner, Chang Sen-wen (張森文), was found dead in an irrigation ditch near his former home.
On Jan. 3, 2014, the Taichung High Administrative Court ruled that the Ministry of the Interior and the county government had violated the law by demolishing the buildings, and ignored the request that the land be returned to the residents and the buildings restored.
The demand that the land be returned to their owners was later overturned in a first and then a second retrial.
When President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office on May 20 last year, there was renewed hope that the demands would finally be met.
Similar incidents keep occurring in Taiwan. It is questionable if things would have gone this far if it had not been for the rise in public awareness, in addition to the perseverance of academia and social movements putting up such a fight.
The people who came forward when they saw the injustices heaved a sigh of relief after the victory, but Chang’s wife and other relatives have paid a heavy price over the past nine years.
In the end, they have at most been given back the property that was theirs all along; it is difficult to call that a victory.
What can be learned from the Chang pharmacy incident?
First, is the government innocent of institutional violence? The court’s decision that the demolition of the buildings was illegal means that Liu was not enforcing the law when he ordered the demolition, but rather broke the law, manifesting “state violence.”
What will his punishment be? Is that not something the courts should address? Will Liu have to take any administrative responsibility as the ministry and the county government spends taxpayers’ money to rebuild the pharmacy? It is clear who made the decision to violate the law and tear down the houses, so are people being told that state violence is fine and anyone involved will get off scot-free?
Second, why does fairness and justice always come late? Demolishing the pharmacy only took a couple of hours, but going to court to have the land returned was a long and grueling process that included demoralizing defeats, and in the end it took five years to get the land back and the property restored.
Why does it have to take so long? Luckily, the pharmacy was not a historical building so restoring it will not be a problem, but who will compensate the Chang family for all their suffering? Who should be held responsible for the death of Chang Sen-wen?
Third, when will land expropriation end? Half of the 154 hectares in Dapu expropriated for the construction of the Jhunan Science Park has been used to build residential buildings, but how many high-tech companies have moved there?
Perhaps this is a case of using infrastructure construction as an excuse to expropriate land for real-estate speculation; is there any difference between this and the MeHAS City (美河市) corruption case, where land expropriated for the construction of a mass rapid transit line was used to build residential buildings?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and a retired associate professor at National Hsinchu University of Education.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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