Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Bomber amnesty bid gains support

MAKING AN EXCEPTIONThe `rice bomber' is a `criminal of conscience' who focused attention on the plight of farmers and should be let out of jail, a TSU lawmaker said

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

A proposal to grant an exemption to a man known as the "rice bomber" as part of a proposed amnesty bill for people serving prison sentences of up to one year gained support across party lines in the legislature yesterday.

Declaring "rice bomber" Yang Ju-men (楊儒門) a "criminal of conscience," the proposal, initiated by Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛), urges President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to grant Yang special amnesty because his bombing campaign against WTO-mandated rice imports "awakened society's conscience about the treatment of farmers."

"The `rice bomber' incident later helped us in our negotiations with the US on rice imports. It enabled us to help the US understand the pressure coming from farmers [over rice imports]," Lai said at a press conference yesterday.

The TSU requested special amnesty for Yang, saying he would not meet the requirements set by a draft amnesty bill. The bill, proposed by the Cabinet in April, has been put on the agenda for tomorrow's plenary session, although cross-party negotiations on the proposal have not yet been completed.

Yang, who was arrested in November 2004 after a tip-off from his brother, was dubbed the "rice bomber" because he sprinkled small amounts of rice on his homemade explosives. No one was injured in the bombing campaign.

Yang was born to a family of farmers and learned how to handle explosives in the military.

A note accusing the government of threatening the survival of farmers was found along with a bomb planted in a Taipei park in November 2003. Over the next few months, 16 more bombs were found in parks, telephone booths and trains. Two of the devices exploded, but caused no injuries and only minor damage.

Yang, a former chicken vendor, said during his trial that he had resorted to the bombing campaign to attract the government's attention and highlight the plight of local farmers after the nation's accession to the WTO in 2002.

He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of NT$100,000 in 2005, but the Taiwan High Court in January last year reduced his sentence to five years and 10 months, saying his motive had not been malicious.

Activists and farmers say that the nation's entry to the WTO has hurt its rice producers as the government slashed agricultural subsidies, conditionally opened the market to rice imports and lowered tariffs on agricultural items to fulfill its obligations as a WTO member.

Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Wang Tuoh (王拓) said he had endorsed Lai's proposal.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday also urged the president to grant a special pardon to Yang.

KMT caucus whip Hsu Shao-ping (徐少萍) said what Yang had done reflected the predicament facing farming villages following the country's entry to the WTO and was aimed at reminding the president to take care of farmers.

"Yang is a prisoner of conscience, not a criminal. His actions represented justice. The president should grant him amnesty right away," Hsu said.

The Presidential Office said last night that President Chen would consider granting Yang a pardon if all elements of his case meet the requirements of the law.

The draft amnesty bill would allow prisoners serving sentences of up to one year to qualify for amnesty. The pan-blue camp wants the threshold to be extended to either one-and-a-half years or three years.

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