PROFILE: Freelance writer uses craft to engage in social activism

By Chen Hsiao-yi and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Wed, Oct 30, 2013 - Page 3

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Liu Chao-hao’s (劉櫂豪) incisive and probing interpellation of Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) on Sept. 25 regarding his alleged misconduct in handling a case involving Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has earned him praise from people fed up with the scandal-plagued judicial system

However, Liu’s performance may not have drawn so much attention were it not for 31-year-old Yang Chen-yu (楊鎮宇), who wrote down the more than 3,000 words Liu spoke in the 13 minute-long interpellation and posted it on Facebook.

Huang was summoned for questioning at the legislature on Oct. 3 as a defendant in a probe into his alleged leaking of details to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) about a wiretapped conversation, which resulted in allegations of improper lobbying against Wang and the nation’s biggest political scandal in recent years.

Ma, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and former Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) were also called in by the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on the same day for questioning over the case.

During the legislative session, Liu challenged the legitimacy of Huang’s citation of Article 44 of the Constitution as the legal basis for his Aug. 31 report to Ma on the probe into Wang’s alleged misconduct while the investigation was still ongoing.

The article stipulates that in the case of disputes involving two or more branches of government, the president may call a meeting of the heads of the concerned branches to work out a solution.

“At about 11am [on Sept. 25,] I saw a number of my friends reposting a video of the interpellation on their Facebook pages. I originally planned to watch only the first two minutes of it, but I ended up watching the whole thing twice,” Yang said.

Yang said he felt a strong urge to make a transcript of the session, but five minutes later he briefly gave up on the task because the video was only available on YouTube, which did not support a popular transcription software program that would have made the job a lot easier.

“However, after seeing how little coverage the mainstream media had given to such a remarkable interpellation session, I decided to put aside my work and spend one-and-a-half hours transcribing the video so that more people could watch or read it,” Yang said.

The post attracted more than 380,000 views in four days.

Yang said that after completing his compulsory military service, he first worked an editor at the Chinese-language monthly magazine Humanistic Education Journal.

He was in charge of reporting stories regarding students — particularly physically and mentally disabled students — who fell victim to bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Yang said the job exposed him to the flaws in the nation’s judicial system and made him question whether it was designed to protect the underprivileged and the vulnerable, he said, citing teachers who were often left powerless and under tremendous pressure after coming forward to report a crime on campus.

Yang later joined the Humanistic Education Foundation’s efforts to push for the inclusion of a ban on corporal punishments in schools in the Educational Fundamental Act (教育基本法) and to assist students and teachers in combating unfair treatment.

“The law is supposed to protect the underprivileged, but it often fails to fulfill that purpose,” Yang said, adding that there were also cases in which the concerned parties were unable to fight for their rights because of their lack of legal knowledge.

The perceived inefficiency of the law later prompted Yang to sign up for a training program at the Judicial Reform Foundation, where he was taught how to use plain language to explain complicated legal terms to the general public and to encourage people to “not remain silent, but to be a citizen who dares to challenge the system and those in power.”

Stepping up his efforts, Yang resigned from his job to spend more time writing about social issues.

In addition to joining the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty, Yang also accompanied social activists as they took to the street to voice their opposition to media monopolies or nuclear energy.

“As a freelance writer, I never see my job as just a source of a meager income,” Yang said.

“Rather, I see it as a channel through which I can hear different people share their stories about how they fought for their beliefs … and be amazed by their unwavering determination in pursuing justice and fairness,” he added.