Civic groups, lawmakers and former political prisoners yesterday attacked the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) for turning the site of a former military detention center used to jail political dissidents into a cultural park to house art and performance groups.
Before becoming the Taiwan Human Rights Memorial (台灣人權景美園區), Taipei’s Jingmei military detention center was used as both a place to try and temporarily detain political dissidents before sending them to prison or to be execution from the late 1960s to the 1980s.
Dissidents who were detained and tried at the center include former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊), former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-te (施明德), former independent legislator Lee Ao (李敖), and the late dissident writer Bo Yang (柏楊).
In 2007, the site was turned into a human rights park and the former military court and prison cells were opened to the public.
However, the CCA announced earlier this month that to attract more visitors, the council would invite artists and performance groups to use the buildings for offices and performance space.
Several civic groups expressed their objection to the plan yesterday.
“The CCA’s plan to permit artists to freely use the historic rooms — including the former courtroom and prison cells — and allow them to make adjustments will just destroy the place,” Mainlander Taiwanese Association executive director Huang Luo-fei (黃洛斐) told the Taipei Times via telephone.
“Of course we support the idea of attracting more visitors and giving a new life to the old historic space,” Huang said. “But you have to take into consideration why this place was preserved in the first place and don’t take it out of the historical context.”
Chiu E-ling (邱伊翎), director of media and communications at the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, agreed.
“[The former Jingmei military detention center] is an important landmark in Taiwan’s human rights history — you cannot treat it like an abandoned warehouse,” Chiu said, adding that the CCA had never discussed the issue with human rights groups or former political prisoners who were jailed there.
“[President] Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九] said that he considers the human rights issue a priority and the government brags about the ratification of two UN human rights convenants,” she said. “But I think we’re taking a step backward in manifesting human rights.”
Former DPP secretary-general Wang Tuoh (王拓), who was detained at the center as a political prisoner, accused the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government of “trying to erase its own ugly history.”
DPP legislators also joined in the chorus of disapproval.
DPP caucus whip Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) told a press conference that Ma’s government renamed the human rights park on Feb. 27.
The old military court will be remodeled into offices for performing arts groups, while the detention house would become display rooms for art or performance rehearsal studios, he said.
The historical value of the site would be destroyed by the project, Lee said.
DPP Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said the human rights park was designed when she served as Council of Cultural Affairs chairperson, and the original compound was preserved.
The human rights park would remind people that many people were jailed and tortured because their thinking differed from the former KMT regime, and the site should remain a memorial, she said.