Clashes broke out yesterday morning between police and Losheng Sanatorium activists as officers removed the protesters staging a sit-in outside a dormitory ahead of the compound’s scheduled demolition.
“[Department of Health Minister] Yeh Ching-chuan [葉金川], come talk to us,” around 200 protesters shouted repeatedly as they linked arms outside the Joan of Arc Hall, one of the compound’s dormitories.
The demonstrators started gathering late on Tuesday night after hearing that a partial demolition of the sanatorium would begin at 7:30am yesterday.
The sanatorium, completed in 1930 during the Japanese colonial period, was once used to isolate people with Hansen’s disease — also known as leprosy.
A campaign to save the complex in Sinjhuang City (新莊), Taipei County, started a few years ago when the location was selected as the site for a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) maintenance depot.
Joan of Arc Hall is one of the oldest buildings on the compound and was used to house single women. The hall was to be one of the first buildings to be torn down yesterday. It was unclear whether the demolition took place, as reporters were later blocked from the area.
As head of the department in charge of managing the sanatorium, Yeh has the authority to register Losheng as an historic site with the Council for Cultural Affairs, according to the Cultural Assets Protection Act (文化資產保護法).
Upon receiving the report, the council would be required to launch a review process, during which the sanatorium could be protected as a “temporary historic site.”
However, Yeh did not appear to talk to the protesters. Instead, more than 500 police officers, including SWAT team members, arrived.
“We are here on official duty, and you are in the way. If you do not leave within 10 minutes, we will have to remove you by force,” Sinjhuang Precinct Chief Hsu Yung-sheng (?? said through a loudspeaker.
The protesters ignored the warning and continued their chants.
After a 20-minute standoff, Hsu ordered the officers to remove the demonstrators and the situation deteriorated.
“Don’t you touch me,” protesters were heard shouting at police.
“Stay calm. You shouldn’t be here. You should stay home and study,” Hsu told the protesters, most of whom seemed to be high school or university students.
The police removed the protesters after more than an hour and proceeded to break into the barricaded Joan of Arc Hall.
Losheng resident Lan Tsai-yun (藍彩雲) and a few other protesters had locked themselves inside and blocked the doors and hallway with furniture.
The police broke the door with a saw and escorted the remaining people out.
“I didn’t want to come live here, I was brought here by force when I was little,” Lan said, crying. “I’ve lived here for more than 50 years — much longer than I was at home.Where am I supposed to go now that you’re forcing me to leave?”
“Leprosy has damaged our bodies, but this government has a damaged heart,” Chen Chai-tien (陳再添), another Losheng resident said.
Hydraulic shovels moved in after the area was cleared to proceed with the demolition.
Asked for comment on the issue, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said yesterday that Losheng was under review to determine whether it qualified as an historical site. Before a decision had been reached, the demolition should not proceed, Tsai said.