After I left the protest yesterday afternoon I went to my evening class at NCCU. It felt kind of surreal to enter the campus on the edge of the mountains. The shouts of “Ma Yingjiu xia tai!” and the blasts of the airhorns were still ringing in my ears. However, what was happening on the campus seemed far removed from the centre of the capital .
Chengchi University (政治大學) means political university. Many of Taiwan’s leading politicians and public officials are alumni. However, I often feel it should be called National Apolitical University. The apathy of students is palpable. It is such a contrast to my time at The University of Melbourne in the 1990s which was a hotbed of political activism.
It is good to know that student activism in Taiwan is alive though. Yesterday at 11:00 am a group of university students began a sit in protest in front of the Executive Yuan. The Taipei Times reports:
Some 500 college students staged a sit-in yesterday in front of the Executive Yuan over the police response to protests against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit.
“The protest will continue through the night, into tomorrow and [through] tomorrow … until our three appeals are accepted,” said Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁), the group’s spokesman and an associate professor of sociology at National Taiwan University.
The students have issued a statement of demands titled, “Protest police brutality! Defend freedom and human rights!” They are asking President Ma and Premier Liu to apologise for the actions of police during the visit of Chen Yunlin. Another key point is calling for Revision of the Parade and Assembly Law (集會遊行法).
I was so impressed to see the students staging such a well organised, democratic and peaceful protest. Members of NGOs held a press conference discussing to talk about problems with the Assembly Law. A student got up with a guitar and sang songs. Several university professors came in support and one gave a long speech talking about his experiences of the Assembly Law from the days of martial law and the early years of the democratic era. Donations of water and food piled up. There was also a media centre distributing information and broadcasting the protest online. One aspect of the protest was that the students maintained political neutrality. They wore black shirts and removed any partisan political symbols.
The sign above is similar to the one used by the police to give warnings under the Assembly Law. However, it says, “Illegal Police” (違法警察). While I was there the police issued a first warning at 12:30. However, they did not seem to be preparing to take any action against the students.
I visited the protest between midday and 2:30 this afternoon. As I type this post I am watching a live video broadcast from the protest. At 4:45pm police started taking away the protesters onto buses. The students chanted “Peace!” (和平) as they were taken away. The students plan to reassemble at Freedom Square (自由廣場).
Update: I was at Freedom Square tonight where the students reassembled. I was told the police handled everyone gently and nobody was hurt. The students were taken to the back gate of NTU and released. The police brought in five buses which probably means 200-250 people were taken away. There were about 150 students at the sit in when I was there in the afternoon. The Bala Daily also has a report.
Update 2: Police remove student demonstrators – Taipei Times, 8 November 2008
Update 3: Students reconvene, protest on – Taipei Times, 9 November 2008
Update 4: New student sit-ins pop up across nation – Taipei Times, 10 November 2008
*More photos from the student protest can be seen at flickr.