Sunflower Movement Activists Found Not Guilty. What Next?

Why you need to know

Leaders of the 2014 Sunflower Movement were today found not guilty for occupying Taiwan's Parliment. Other cases involving incidents during the movement have not yet been heard, and demands still haven't been met.

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A group of Taiwanese political leaders and activists today were found not guilty of all charges related to the occupation of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's Parliament, on March 18, 2014.

The 22 Sunflower Movement activists found not guilty included protest leaders Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), Tsay Ting-kuei (蔡丁貴), and Tseng Po-yu (曾柏瑜).

However, other legal matters involving incidents during the Sunflower Movement continuing, and the trial verdict today raises the fact that many of the demands of the Sunflower Movement still have not been met.

In a press conference, Huang thanked supporters, including the lawyers involved in the case, and said that the trial took into account the overall effect of the Sunflower Movement on Taiwan. Tseng stated the importance of standing up for Taiwan’s democracy and that it is not a guilty act. Tsay noted the unsettled issues of Taiwan’s colonial history, including the continued existence of the Republic of China government-in-exile in Taiwan, and stressed that the importance of the "318" Legislative Yuan occupation due to it being a nonviolent act of civil disobedience.

Chen said that though the issue of the 318 Legislative Yuan occupation seems to have been settled, one cannot forget that the cases for the “324” attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan or the “411” demonstration surrounding Zhongzheng First Police Precinct are still ongoing. He also said that it has been one year since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office, and since then Taiwan has witnessed the backsliding of the DPP on its commitment key demands called for by the Sunflower Movement, such as the cross-Straits oversight bill intended to monitor future cross-Strait agreements between Taiwan and China.

With the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China slated to take place this year, pressure on Taiwan is expected to increase and a meeting is scheduled to take place between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). While this would suggest the cross-Straits oversight law being more important than ever, the DPP has backed away from the notion for fear of worsening relations with China.

Lin echoed Chen’s comments, stating that if participants of the 318 Legislative Yuan occupation had been found guilty, it should also be the same with participants of 324 and 411. Lin also reiterated the pressing need for judicial reform in Taiwan and that he hoped the results of today’s trial was a sign of progress in judicial reform. He said that whether or not Taiwan has accomplished demands made during the Sunflower Movement, it can be seen as a sign of Taiwan’s progress along the road of democracy and this is the means by which Taiwan should defend itself from China’s attempts to encroach on its sovereignty. Lin said the Sunflower Movement was not over as long as democracy in Taiwan still needs safeguarding.

What now?

The results of the trial are not particularly surprising. Though the trial began under the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration, taking a hard line on the Sunflower Movement would not be desirable for either a Kuomintang (KMT) or DPP administration. Actions against the leaders of the Sunflower Movement could be read as political persecution and this might have led to sharp reactions from society. Coming from a KMT government, this would have led to further outrage against the KMT. On the other hand, coming from the DPP, this would have been seen as the DPP betraying its values and turning on the young people of Taiwan, the support of which was crucial in its taking power in 2016 presidential and legislative elections. As such, one heard numerous calls for leniency within the courtroom during the trial process. Nevertheless, the point is not for anyone to be grateful to the DPP with the view that the DPP was behind letting Sunflower Movement leaders off the hook either, in light of the fact that it means very little if the DPP decides to let Sunflower Movement leaders get off easy but fails to fulfill its promises to Taiwanese young people.

As pointed out by the Sunflower Movement leaders, the sentencing for the"324" attempted Executive Yuan occupation and "411" demonstration outside of Zhongzheng First Police Precinct has yet to be heard. While the "318" Legislative Yuan occupation has come to be seen as a justified act of civil disobedience, in light of the undemocratic actions of the KMT, the latter two incidents are more controversial. At the time of the occupation of the Executive Yuan, some saw the incident as a sign of splits within the Sunflower Movement and even media outlets sympathetic to the Sunflower Movement labeled participants as being no better than terrorists, going as far as to stoking conspiracy theories that participants intended terrorist actions such as blowing up the Executive Yuan.

Likewise, some consider the "411" demonstration to be unjustified for directly targeting the police. In that way, some perceive the action as defying rule of law or as going overboard because demonstrators refused to allow police to leave Zhongzheng First Police Precinct until Zhongzheng First Police Precinct chief Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧) resigned.

Indeed, as with any movement, what actions are considered to be justified is always a matter of public debate. Obviously, “318,” “324,” and “411” all involved with breaking some laws, but what actions are considered correct and which are not vary depending on public perception. In reality, in consideration of what went on behind the scenes, the difference between all three incidents is more a matter of tactics than intent. But it remains to be seen how the latter two incidents will be judged.

Looking to Hong Kong, with recent crackdowns in against leaders of the Umbrella Movement following the election of Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 ), a pro-Beijing hardliner, one can observe the sharp difference between Taiwan and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the courts are subject to Beijing’s will and there seems to be little chance that Umbrella Movement participants will be let off the hook easily; if they are, it will be because Beijing decides that it would be overly provocative of the Hong Kong public to persecute them at this time.

But one wonders if events in Taiwan will have an effect on Hong Kong, since if Sunflower Movement leaders are let off the hook by the Taiwanese court system, China may decide that Hong Kong courts need to take a much firmer line with the leaders of the Umbrella Movement in order to make them into an example. We shall see in regards to not only “324” and “411,” then, but also Hong Kong.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.

Editor: Olivia Yang

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