At the time of their arrest, much of the general public saw the so-called Kaohsiung Eight -- the main group of defendants charged with fomenting the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident -- as anti-social criminals who had conspired to overthrow the government.
Ironically, however, it was the public trial before a martial law court that ultimately made it possible for six men and two women accused to alter their images as criminals and, most importantly, to convey the idea -- the dream -- of an independent Taiwan to the public.
In practical terms, it was a court-martial (Taiwan was under martial law at the time) on charges of sedition, which led to lengthy jail terms for the eight. However, participants believed that via an open trial, they had succeeded in raising public awareness of the right to self-determination for both themselves and Taiwan.
"Over eighteen million Taiwan people have to be awakened to the fact that Taiwan is a de facto independent country, which was an untold truth for thirty years," Shih Ming-teh (
"The reason we started Formosa magazine (
Three months after the Kaoh-siung Incident -- a large march which eventually turned violent when police and demonstrators clashed -- the eight accused were tried by a military court for their roles in the incident.
Under the charge they were facing -- sedition -- the death penalty was mandatory. However, none were sentenced to death -- even though Shih had defiantly requested it for himself during his testimony; he received a life sentence instead. The other seven sentences ranged from 10 to 14 years' imprisonment.
However, the sentences were actually seen as a victory by the team of defense lawyers.
"At that time, anyone tried by a military court was supposed to get the death sentence, unless granted clemency by the president," said Chen Chi-sen (
Confessions extracted prior to the trial were used as primary evidence against the eight accused. Throughout the trial, however, the defense lawyers kept challenging the legality of the confessions, hinting that they were extracted through torture or other abusive means.
Chen Shui-bian (
"Your honor, please investigate the legality of the confessions," he said at one stage. "If they were extracted by torture, not given of their own free will, the charges brought against the accused are clearly dubious and we can stop ourselves from wasting any more time debating the facts of this case."
Chen's use of the word "torture" reportedly stunned the court into a few moments of silence as the audacity of his remarks sank in. It was a seminal moment, and from then on, the rest of the defense team took turns raising questions about the legality of the confessions.
Chen Chi-sen said the primary aim of the defense strategy was to convince the court of the inadmissibility of the confessions. But he admitted that they were concerned about pushing the issue too far, in case it provoked a backlash.
"We had to overturn their confessions, which were seen as very powerful evidence. But we also had to restrain ourselves from going too far. Otherwise, our efforts would have been in vain," Chen said.
Although handled by a military court, it was an open trial which the press was allowed to cover. During the nine-day trial, newspaper sales generally rose in proportion to coverage given to the trial, sparking intense competition between the two major dailies, China Times and the United Daily News.
The intense media coverage had a deep impact on the public's perception of the accused and the incident itself. In reading newspaper reports of the trial, few failed to be impressed with the well-organized and well-presented arguments put forward by the accused and their defense lawyers.
Above all, many people, especially the younger generation, grew inspired by the opposition activists' passionate pursuit of the belief that the people of Taiwan, not China or the US, should have the final say over their own fate.
The current Taipei County Commissioner Su Tseng-chang (蘇-s昌), a member of the defense team, summed up the trial's impact on society succinctly: "It allowed the public to hear the truth about the incident. And when more and more people came out to support our ideals, the KMT was forced to realize it was facing an irresistible trend."
Indonesia has sent hundreds of riot police to a tiny island after protests broke out against a China-backed project that would displace thousands of residents. About 1,000 people protested in Batam City on Monday over a plan to develop Rempang island into a Chinese-funded economic zone, including the construction of a multibillion-dollar glass factory, that would displace about 7,500 people. Some protesters clashed with security forces outside a government agency, wielding machetes, Molotov cocktails and stones, police said, adding that dozens were arrested. Beijing has poured money into infrastructure and resource projects in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy and its investments have previously caused
CALL FOR PEACE: Czech President Petr Pavel raised concerns about China’s military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait and its ‘unfriendly action’ in the South China Sea The leaders of three diplomatic allies — Guatemala, Paraguay and Palau — on Tuesday voiced support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN on the first day of the UN General Debate in New York. In his address during the 78th UN General Assembly, Palauan President Surangel Whipps Jr urged the UN and all parties involved in cross-strait issues to exercise restraint and seek a peaceful resolution. “The well-being and prosperity of nations and their economies are intrinsically linked to global peace and stability,” he said. He also thanked partner nations such as Taiwan, Australia, Japan and the US for providing assistance
‘HARASSMENT’: A record 103 Chinese warplanes were detected in 24 hours, posing severe challenges to security in the Taiwan Strait and the region, the ministry said Taiwan yesterday told China to stop its “destructive unilateral actions” after more than 100 Chinese warplanes and nine navy ships were detected in areas around the nation. The Ministry of National Defense (MND) described the number of warplanes detected in 24 hours as a “recent high,” while Beijing has so far refrained from issuing any official comment on the sorties. “Between the morning of September 17th to 18th, the Ministry of National Defense had detected a total of 103 Chinese aircraft, which was a recent high and has posed severe challenges to the security across the Taiwan Strait and in the region,”
CROSS-STRAIT CONCERNS: At the same US Congress hearing, Mira Resnick said a US government shutdown could affect weapons sales and licenses to allies such as Taiwan A Chinese blockade of Taiwan would be a “monster risk” for Beijing and likely to fail, while a military invasion would be extremely difficult, senior Pentagon officials told the US Congress on Tuesday. Growing worries of a conflict come as China has ramped up military pressure on Taiwan, holding large-scale war games simulating a blockade on the nation, while conducting near-daily warplane incursions and sending Chinese vessels around its waters. US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner said a blockade would be “a monster risk for the PRC [People’s Republic of China].” “It would likely not succeed, and it