The images of protesters being roughly handled by riot police during demonstrations during an eight-day visit by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) earlier this month are a painful reminder of a visit by his predecessor, Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), in 2008.
In an effort to “maintain public order” during Chen Yunlin’s five-day stay, police officers confiscated national flags from protesters, banned them from chanting pro-independence slogans, and forced a record store to turn off its music system because the song it was playing was deemed “too rabble-rousing.”
The officers, rather than upholding justice and human rights, left some of the unarmed demonstrators with broken bones and bleeding foreheads.
Feeling that the police’s heavy-handed approach had seriously violated the core values of freedom and democracy, scores of university students staged a series of protests and sits-in, which was later labeled as the “Wild Strawberry Movement.”
Although several injured protesters later took the commanding officers at the scene to court for “inflicting physical harms and restricting personal freedom,” few of them won their cases.
Others were sued by the police for injuring them while acting in self-defense.
The protesters’ predicaments struck a chord with film director Chen Yu-ching (陳育青), who was detained by the police for filming Chen Yunlin without a press card after visiting a friend at Taipei’s Grand Hotel, where the Chinese envoy was staying.
“Just when I thought Taiwan had made a giant leap in human rights protection, the ‘Chen Yunlin incident’ happened. It was like a slap in my face,” Chen Yu-ching said.
Frustrated by the incident, Chen Yu-ching decided to make a documentary about the legal wrangling between the injured protesters and the law enforcement agency, entitling it Civil Disobedience (公民不服從).
She also added her video recordings of the event where she was questioned and detained by the police to the film, where the officers were heard shouting: “It is in the police’s power to enforce the law. Do you have any problem with us asking questions about your identity?”
Chen Yu-ching gave birth to a baby girl in 2010, but that did not stop her from making the film.
Instead, she brought her daughter to each court hearing of the protesters’ cases.
However, seeing how the demonstrators had suffered setbacks in their pursuit of justice saddened her.
So far, only Ted Chiang (江一德), a graduate student at National Taiwan University at the time of Chen Yunlin’s visit, has won a lawsuit and received a compensation of NT$300,000.
Despite being unarmed, Chiang was dragged underneath riot shields and beaten by unidentified police officers while demonstrating against the Chinese envoy.
Chen Yu-ching was dissatisfied with the ruling.
“It was the police who inflicted the harm. How come the taxpayers have to pay? We would continue seeking a constitutional interpretation of the verdict,” Chen Yu-ching said.
Talking about the reasons behind her decision to make the documentary, Chen Yu-ching said that while people’s memories of the police’s brutal crackdown on protesters had faded over time, there is still a small group of people who continue to fight for their right to be “disobedient” and to express their concern over the nation’s backsliding democracy via lawsuits and civic movements.
“I want to record and tell their stories,” Chen Yu-ching said.
She said frontline law-enforcement officials were also the victims in police-civilian conflicts, as their lack of training was what constantly put them in difficult situations in the line of duty.
Several schools and legal organizations have planned screening sessions for the documentary, which came out last month after five years in the making.
Commenting on recent events where students protesting against Chen Deming were roughly carried away by police, the filmmaker said such incidents showed that government violations of human rights would only increase over time.
“The more police officers the government dispatches to ward off protests, the more prevalent and comprehensive the wave of civil disobedience will become,” she said.