Tue, Jan 10, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Protesters demand activists' release

GLOBAL ACTION The protest in Taipei joined several across the globe demanding that 14 anti-WTO activists be released and that charges against them be dropped

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

Labor rights groups yesterday protested in front of the Hong Kong Tourism board in Taipei to demand the release of anti-globalization activists who were detained in Hong Kong due to their participation in anti-WTO protests.

PHOTO: LIN CHENG-KUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Labor rights groups yesterday protested in front of the Hong Kong Tourism board in Taiwan to demand the release of anti-globalization activists who have been detained in Hong Kong due to their participation in anti-WTO protests.

The demonstration was one of many at Chinese embassies across the world yesterday, as activists demanded that criminal charges be dropped against 14 protesters -- 11 Koreans, one Chinese, one Japanese and one Taiwanese.

The Taiwanese who was detained, Taiwan National University student Lee Chien-cheng (李建誠), was released on bail but will return to Hong Kong tomorrow, when a third hearing will be held.

Shouting slogans such as "Protesting is non-criminal!", "Release WTO political activists," and "Down! Down! WTO," Taiwanese activist groups marched toward the front of the building, shoving security personnel who were standing guard.

Protestors had not applied for permission to stage the protest and within minutes, security personnel held up warning signs.

Cold shoulder

The demands of the protesters fell on deaf ears, as no Hong Kong tourism officials emerged from the building. As a last resort, activists rolled up press releases and threw them over the row of security personnel in an effort to get their message across.

General secretary of the Solidarity Front of Women Workers Lai Hsiang-Ling (賴香伶) said, "This is the fifth time that we have come to the Hong Kong Tourism board and not once have officials come out. They won't even pass on our message to the Chinese government in Hong Kong."

According to Lai, if criminal charges aren't cleared tomorrow, 1,000 Koreans will travel to Hong Kong to protest, along with Taiwanese anti-globalization activists. As well as fighting for clearing detainees' names, activists also took the opportunity to state their cause.

A student at Soochow University, Pan Cheng-wei (潘晟瑋), who was arrested while protesting in Hong Kong on Dec. 18, but then released, said, "We were protesting against the General Agreement on Trades and Services [GATS] and Agreement on agriculture [AOA]. Under the GATS, basic pay for foreign laborers will be based on basic pay standards in their native countries, not the country of residence. This means that poor countries will be exploited by richer countries; laborers in South East Asia will be exploited by Taiwan and Taiwan will be exploited by EU countries and America."

Activists said that Taiwan's membership in the WTO has hurt the agricultural industry and that since it joined the organization, the government has slashed subsidies to the farming industry, conditionally opened the nation to more rice imports and lowered tariffs on agricultural items to fulfill its obligations as a WTO member.

"Fair trade is better than free trade," Pan said.

Feeling tricked

Describing his arrest in Hong Kong, Pan said, "We were at the hospital due to injuries we sustained during the protests. The police had come up to us and asked us to come for a chat. Later they told us to go to the police station with them to give them a fuller statement. But before we got out of the car, they said that we had been arrested for participating in illegal protests. I feel like we were a bit tricked into going to the police station."

Pan was detained for 48 hours along with protesters from Korea and Japan. He said this was simply a measure to prevent them from joining protest activities which were continuing the next day. He added that although they were given a statement informing them of their right to a lawyer and to drink water, these needs were not addressed for several hours.

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