Green Party candidate for the Taipei City No. 6 District by-election, Calvin Wen (溫炳原), spent 26 hours in a camphor tree on the site of the Old Songshan Tobacco Factory (松山菸廠) in Taipei to protest and prevent its removal.
The protest began on Friday afternoon as Green Party Taiwan members discovered the last tree was about to be removed. Calvin was able to climb the tree with assistance from several other Green Party members who were then removed from the site by police. An agreement was later reached with police to allow four people to accompany Calvin at the base of the tree. The Green Party argued that the removal of the tree was illegal as the the second environmental impact assessment for the site had not yet passed.
I heard the news of this incident on Friday night and went to the site early on Saturday morning. I found three people had slept outside the gate of the site on Guangfu South Road. I was able to enter the site around 8:00am and take some photos and talk to Calvin.
At 9:30am a TV crew from CTS (華視) arrived but police refused them entry to the site. Shortly after crews from PTS (公視) and SET (三立) also arrived and police continued to deny the media entry to the site. At about 10:00am a press conference was held outside the main gate to the site on Guangfu South Road.
Green Party Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said that this was a non-violent protest to protect the largest tree in the Taipei City lowland area. Protests to save trees began with the Chipko movement in India in 1973 and have since been carried out in many countries around the world. The site is being redeveloped as a 24 hour commercial facility in a BOT project. The Green Party and local residents have long campaigned for the site to become a park.
At 11:05am the police admitted media to the site, but all TV crews had left by that time. I was able to gain access to the site for the second time when I took the photo at the top of this post.
At 1:05pm two out of uniform police officers entered the site claiming they were going to take Calvin down from the tree. I believe one of these officers was the chief of the Xinyi District Police Headquarters. There was a subsequent flurry of phone calls and activity. Calvin called me to say the police said they were going to take him down from the tree and asked me to contact international media. Green Party supporters moved to the basketball courts on Zhongxiao East Road where there was a view of the tree.
It was during this time that police forcefully removed the two people who were accompanying Calvin. Calvin also began to climb higher in the tree at this time. The fire brigade also arrived during this time, bringing a hydraulic platform and other equipment. After a clash between protesters and police as firefighters brought equipment onto the site the police allowed media to enter the site 2:10pm. Several TV crews were there and I was able to enter with the media.
The fire brigade set two air cushions at the base of the tree for safety. The Xinyi District police chief climbed the tree to try to persuade Calvin to come down.
A hydraulic platform was put into place and at 3:20pm Calvin was brought down from the tree. At the same time several Green Party supporters ran onto the site in protest and were forcefully restrained by police.
As far as I know at no time during the incident did any officials from the Taipei City Government make any comment or attempt to address any of the legal issues regarding the removal of the tree. The Green Party plans to file a lawsuit against the Taipei City Government.
Update: A crew began work in the early hours of Sunday morning and removed the tree amidst protests by local residents and Green Party members. In the afternoon I went to the gate on Guangfu South Road with three students to try to gain access to the site and photograph the tree after it had been moved. The previous day the Taipei City Education Department had said that people would be able to see the tree after it had been moved. One and a half hours of knocking on the gate and making polite requests was duly ignored by the police, City Government officials and staff inside. We were unable to gain access. The tree was visible on the back of a truck inside the site.
- Green Party Taiwan halts tree removal at site of old Songshan Tobacco Factory – Taipei Times
- Green Party’s Calvin Wen forced down camphor tree – Taipei Times
- Taiwan environmentalists clash with police over old camphor tree – Taiwan News
- IGreen – Calvin Wen’s campaign blog
*More photos in the Green Party protest at flickr.