A memorial service was held yesterday in memory of Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), the late democracy advocate who set himself on fire 23 years ago and died in defense of “100 percent freedom of expression.”
Born in Taiwan in 1947 to a family from China, Deng on numerous occasions in the 1980s overtly articulated his support for Taiwanese independence in public, at a time when a charge of sedition was in place to indict proponents of independence. The punishment if found guilty was death.
A follower of liberalism, Deng held a deep belief in freedom of expression. He established Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代週刊) in 1984 in pursuit of what he called “100 percent freedom of expression.”
On April 7, 1989, he set himself on fire as heavily armed police attempted to break into his office, where he had locked himself up for 71 days after he was charged with sedition for his magazine’s anti-government stance and for publishing a draft “Republic of Taiwan constitution” in 1988.
Yesterday’s solemn service was held at the Deng Nan-jung Memorial Museum, located in the apartment in downtown Taipei where Deng immolated himself 23 years ago.
Museum staff yesterday also hung a sign reading “Liberty Lane (自由巷)” at the entrance to Lane 106, Minquan E Rd Sec 3 (民權東路三段106巷) where the apartment is located, as part of its push for the city government to rename the street in honor of Deng.
A documentary on Deng’s activities was screened during the ceremony. The film shows Deng leading various civic movements fighting against the then-authoritarian Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government.
Among the nearly 100 people present at the memorial ceremony yesterday was Deng’s widow, Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) acting chairperson Chen Chu (陳菊) and a number of DPP politicians.
Chen said in her speech that freedom should not be taken for granted and that people should not forget Deng’s original intentions in pursuing democracy and freedom for the country.
Referring to the DPP’s chairperson election, which is slated to take place on May 27, Chen expressed the hope that whoever aspires to lead the DPP would uphold those ideals.
Later yesterday, accompanied by supporters, Yeh and Deng’s only daughter, Deng Chu-mei (鄭竹梅), paid tribute to Deng at his tomb in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Jinbaoshan Cemetery.
Additional reporting by Lin Shu-hui and Wu Liang-yi