By Jason Pan / Staff reporter
The Taiwan High Court yesterday upheld the “not guilty” verdict for the 22 defendants who occupied the Legislative Yuan during a protest in 2014, saying they were exercising their right to political dissent and freedom of speech.
The 22 were first acquitted in March last year and public prosecutors are unlikely to appeal yesterday’s decision in accordance with the Criminal Speedy Trial Act （刑事妥速審判法） of 2010.
The defendants and other protesters stormed the legislature on March 18, 2014, and occupied the legislative chamber for almost 23 days in what became known as the Sunflower movement.
The defendants included members of different activist groups, such as 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 Wei Yang （魏揚）. While the Taipei District Court acquitted the group on charges of “civil disobedience,” the High Court based its decision on the protection of freedom of speech and right to dissenting views.
Reading the court’s ruling, High Court spokesman Chiu Chung-yi （邱忠義） said that the defendants acted in response to Chinese Nationalist Party （KMT） Legislator Chang Ching-chung （張慶忠） and other KMT lawmakers’ rush to pass the cross-strait service trade agreement draft bill through a legislative subcommittee without following proper procedures.
The defendants’ action “did not cause any clear and immediate danger,” Chou said, adding that according to Council of Grand Justices’ Interpretation No. 455, the defendants should be given protection under freedom of speech, for which they should not be oppressed or punished in the aftermath of their undertaken acts.
The High Court determined that the group was “urging other protesters to enter the legislature together as a group to express their discontent and opposition to the cross-strait agreement.”
“They were not maligning and vilifying indiscriminately, nor did they incite the crowd to commit acts of violence against the government,” the ruling said.
“At that time, the draft bill was headed for a vote in the legislature within three days. The defendants decided that occupying the legislature was their only recourse, as they perceived there was insufficient time and no other effective way to block the draft bill,” it said.
“That people can express contrary opinions on public affairs issues demonstrates the freedom of expression that Taiwan’s society has fought to earn through very difficult circumstances,” it said.
“The acquittal proves that the cross-strait agreement had done grave harm to our constitutional democracy. We are not guilty, but the real guilty ones are [then-president] Ma Ying-jeou （馬英九） and his government, and KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung, who tried to ram the draft bill through by using illegal and unconstitutional means,” said Huang, now New Power Party executive chairman.
Chen said the ruling serves as a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping （習近平） “that you could be an emperor and extend your rule indefinitely, but Taiwan is a democratic nation.”
“Xi should not infringe on Taiwan’s territory, because Taiwanese will rise and fight, and our democracy and the judiciary will protect the public’s rights,” Chen said.