A special exhibition about a fierce crackdown on a peaceful campaign for democracy during the Japanese colonial period under the Peace Order and Police Act (POPA, 治安警察法) was launched yesterday in a former Japanese-era police station in Taipei.
Commonly known as the “POPA Incident” (治警事件), the crackdown began on Dec. 16, 1923, when the then-Japanese governor-general of Taiwan ordered the arrests of Taiwanese civil rights activists involved in a campaign for the creation of an elected representative body.
As many as 99 leaders of the movement — including Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), Tsai Pei-huo (蔡培火) and Wang Min-chuan (王敏川) — were arrested, interrogated, detained or jailed during the crackdown.
“Although the POPA Incident is a very important event, many people do not know about it, partially because of a lack of historical documents,” Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Liu Wei-gong (劉維公) said at the exhibition’s opening ceremony. “With pictures and documents donated by private collectors, we are now able to get a more in-depth view of the incident.”
Chiang Wei-shui Cultural Foundation chairman Yen Wen-hsi (顏文熙) said the crackdown happened after Taiwanese activists held demonstrations in Tokyo, not only petitioning for political representation, but also protesting the heavy-handed rule of the governor-general in Taiwan.
“The activists even went as far as directly petitioning to former Japanese emperor Hirohito when he traveled to Taiwan as crown prince,” Yen said.
While the activists were found not guilty at a first court appearance, Chiang and Tsai were sentenced to four months in prison by the court of appeals.
Newspapers were asked not to report on the crackdown by the police, while public telecommunications services with the outside world were also temporarily cut.
Liberty Times Group chairman Wu A-ming (吳阿明), who attended the ceremony, said: “What is right and what is wrong can only be decided by future generations after a news event becomes history.”
“When [the activists] were arrested by the Japanese police, Taiwanese may have thought the activists worked for the good of Taiwan, but people who worked for the government at the time may have considered them traitors,” Wu added.
The exhibition is being held at the former Taipei North Police Station at 87 Ningxia Rd, Datong District, Taipei City, and will run until Nov. 5.