President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) joined victims of the White Terror era on Human Rights Day yesterday to take part in events at the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sindian District (新店).
About 170 victims of the White Terror era from across the country gathered to mark the day, observed every year around the world, with Aboriginal music and dancing performed by family members of the victims.
During the event, Ma also presented certificates of appreciation to a number of victims who donated culturally significant items to the national human rights museum, which is currently under development, including Chen Meng-ho (陳孟和), who was jailed at Green Island’s New Life Correction Center for 15 years, as well as former political prisoners Huang Kuang-hai (黃廣海) and Liu Chen-tan (劉辰旦).
The event was disrupted by occasional shouting, as a number of indignant victims shouted: “There are no human rights in Taiwan” and “Ma Ying-jeou step down” while Lung delivered a speech.
While calling for respect of White Terror victims, Lung said: “If it was the intolerance of the government at the time that put you through such an ordeal, then I want to call for tolerance now from all the victims present to respect those who voice different opinions.”
Despite the appeal, the event descended into chaos when Ma addressed the audience, with Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan convener Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴) shouting: “Ma Ying-jeou doesn’t deserve to be here” and “Give back A-bian’s [former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁)] human rights.”
One person then threw a shoe at Ma, which fell short.
“It is the attitude of tolerance and mutual respect that serves as the fundamental value in Taiwan’s human rights development,” Ma said in his speech.
Calm was restored after Chen Hsin-chi (陳新吉), a White Terror victim who volunteers at the human rights memorial and cultural park, stepped onto the stage for his speech.
“When I no longer clench my fists in anger, I am always ready to accept others’ kindness and to make peace. On the contrary, I can’t get anything if I double up my fists again,” he said.
“Open your hands and make peace with yourself, with others or even with this society,” he said.
Earlier in the morning, rights advocates rallied outside the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei as Ma presided over the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award (ADHRA) ceremony, accusing him of being a human rights violator and of not qualifying to present the award.
Representatives of laid-off workers, urban renewal victims, a former nuclear power plant engineer with cancer suspected to have been triggered by exposure to radiation and a Tibetan-Taiwanese lay on a red carpet outside a hotel as the ceremony took place inside, while human rights advocates performed a skit to express that Ma had walked over them to hand out the award.
“Human rights conditions are declining in Taiwan because our government is incapable of defending people’s rights — it only cares about economic development and the interests of big corporations,” Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) secretary-general Tsai Chi-hsun (蔡季勳) said. “We are here to show the president how much the people have suffered because of his carelessness.”
Labor activist Lin Tzu-wen (林子文) and Taiwan Labour Front secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) both accused the government of trying to lower standards for working conditions — for example, rejecting a recommendation to raise the minimum wage made by the Council of Labor Affairs and mulling raising the age for retirement — to benefit corporations.