Sat, Mar 17, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Clashes erupt over leprosarium

PETITION A group called on legislators to pass a stalled statute that would detail the government's responsibility to provide for people with leprosy

By Loa Iok-sin and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Members of the Youth Alliance for Losheng yesterday attempt to prevent Taipei County Government officials from posting a notice with a new deadline for the eviction of residents at Lo Sheng Sanatorium, a leprosarium in Taipei County. Around 40 protesters blocked the gate to the building.

PHOTO: LIN CHIH-CHING, TAIPEI TIMES

A new deadline for the eviction of residents at Lo Sheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium, a leprosarium in Taipei County, sparked physical clashes between police officers and protesters yesterday.

The Taipei County Government has decided to give residents at the sanatorium until April 16 to move out.

Physical clashes broke out when protesters attempted to prevent the police from posting a notice announcing the new deadline yesterday.

Three protesters were arrested.

The Lo Sheng Sanatorium was built in 1929 to house leprosy patients. Leprosy was at the time believed to be easily contagious and incurable, and patients were therefore quarantined for life.

Free movement for sufferers of leprosy has only been allowed since the 1950s.

In order to build a maintenance facility for the MRT system, government authorities have decided to move residents at the sanatorium to a newly built home nearby and demolish most of the buildings at Lo S?heng.

The decision has met with opposition from some Lo Sheng residents, leprosy rights activists and preservationists.

"Save Lo Sheng. It's not just about saving historic buildings ... it's also about respecting the basic human rights of a group of disadvantaged people," the Youth Alliance for Lo Sheng said in a press release.

Tuesday was the original deadline for eviction.

But after demonstrations in front of Premier Su Tseng-chang's (蘇貞昌) residence focused public attention on the issue the Taipei County Government decided to postpone the deadline until April 16th.

Around 40 protesters, including human-rights activists, students, residents of Lo Sheng and their families, blocked the main gate as hundreds of police officers approached the facility this morning, said Lai Che-chun (賴澤君), a representative of the International Association for Integration Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA), who participated in the protests.

IDEA is an international organization protecting the rights of leprosy sufferers.

"The police couldn't get in through the main gate, so they sneaked through a back gate to post the mandatory eviction notice on the bulletin board," Lai said.

"They're like thieves! Only thieves go through backdoors!" A Lo Sheng resident cried.

Another clash broke out as protesters tore down the posted notice.

"We tore down the notice and when the police saw that, the SWAT team moved in and arrested people," said Soda Masoto, a Japanese student pursuing his doctorate in Taiwan.

Three protesters were arrested and one passed out during the clash, Lai said

Meanwhile, a group of leprosy patients yesterday presented a petition to the Legislative Yuan calling on lawmakers to speed up the passage of a statute providing for their needs.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Kuo Su-chun (郭素春) received their petition on behalf of his party.

"Premier Su says the statute is stalled in the legislature. We want legislators to pass it as soon as possible," said Chan Ming-chou (詹銘洲), a member of the Hansen's Patients Human Rights Violation Investigation Committee.

The self-help group, organized with the goal of preserving Lo Sheng Sanatorium, demanded that legislators make preserving the leprosarium one of the articles of the statute.

The current version of the statue only discusses compensation for the patients.

Legislators are divided over the statute, which aims at detailing measures that must be taken to compensate for the suffering of leprosy patients.

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