Lawyers who volunteered to help defend Sunflower movement members butted heads with the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday over the definition of “civil disobedience” amid arguments that the movement is an exercise of democratic rights and should not face judicial repercussions.
The Sunflower movement occupied the Legislative Yuan’s main chamber for 24 days to protest the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade pact.
A group of protesters also laid siege to the Executive Yuan on the night of March 23, but were evicted within hours by police.
Minister of Justice Luo Ying-shay (羅瑩雪) has dismissed the protesters’ claim that they were participating in civil disobedience when they broke into the legislature, saying the pact has not yet been properly reviewed by a joint legislative committee when a KMT lawmaker sent it to the general assembly for review.
The protesters cannot expect to avoid responsibility for breaking the law by claiming they were engaged in civil disobedience, Luo said.
Civil disobedience refers to the right to refuse orders when laws or policies infringe on citizens’ rights to make their voices heard, but the protesters’ actions did not meet such criteria, the minister said.
Instigators of civil disobedience around the world have admitted to breaking the law of their countries and submitted to legal punishment afterwards, Luo said, adding that if students and other protesters are brave enough to challenge authorities, they also need to face the consequences of their actions.
She also questioned how protesters on the streets, estimated at between 116,000 and 500,000 at the height of the Sunflower movement, could represent the people while claiming that the nation’s lawmakers, who were elected by 10 million voters, cannot.
Luo’s comments reverse the cause and effect in the incident, attorney Huang Di-ying (黃帝穎) said, adding that there was something “wrong” with Luo’s and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) concept of logic and their legal knowledge.
It was the government that attempted to pass the pact using such extreme methods that the students were forced to act, Huang said.
If it were not for the Sunflower movement, the pact would already be archived in the legislature’s files, which is the equivalent of being approved, Huang said.
Meanwhile, the minister’s comments sparked a rush by netizens eager to refute her comments by citing material from high-school civil ethics textbooks and civil servants examinations.
Several posted that the political science section of the 2008 civil servants basic examinations asked for a definition of civil disobedience by asking which of the following characteristics are not included in the definition: no illegal activities, non-violence, higher moral demands than required by the law and public action.
The answer was no illegal activities, netizens said, which would appear to contradict Luo’s statements.
A high-school student posted the definition of civil disobedience given in her civil ethics textbook: “When the government overlooks the calls from its citizens and maintain policies which are unjust, citizens may choose civil disobedience in addition to social activism to make their voices heard.”
However, the textbook also states that civil disobedience is an act of open defiance against the law, and usually leads to friction with legal authorities, who may exact a heavy price from the activists.