Executive Yuan charges against Sunflower activists dropped

  • Date: 2016-08-08

I. Background

  1. The Sunflower Student Movement arose in 2014 to protest the government’s handling of the controversial Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services. The protest was a response to the Legislature’s Internal Administration Committee review on March 17 that year, in which convener Chang Ching-chung, a legislator of the then-ruling party Kuomintang, announced that the review was completed after only 30 seconds.

    The next day, angry student demonstrators and civic groups stormed the Legislature, occupying the main chamber and demanding a clause-by-clause review of the services pact. Receiving no positive response from the government, some students and civilians took their protest to the Executive Yuan, forcing their way into the compound on the evening of March 23 before being forcibly evicted by police that night. After the incident, the Executive Yuan filed criminal charges against the protesters who broke into the compound.

     

  2. The Sunflower activists continued to occupy the Legislature over the next several weeks until Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng promised not to review the services pact before a cross-strait agreement oversight bill is passed. On April 10, the student-led activists ended the occupation and vacated the Legislature in a rational and peaceful manner.

     

  3. The court session against the Executive Yuan protesters was scheduled to begin on May 25, 2016. Premier Lin had taken office on May 20, however, and ordered that all charges for criminal offenses indictable only upon complaint be dropped for 126 of the defendants. Other charges on state-prosecutable offenses, including obstructing an officer discharging their duties and inciting others to commit an offense, still stand and those defendants continue to face legal proceedings at the Taipei District Court.

     

II. Reasons for withdrawing the charges

  1. The decision by the previous administration to charge the Sunflower activists was politically motivated, as criminal charges were filed for offenses indictable only upon complaint—namely illegally entering a building and damage to property—and yet no civil suit for compensation was filed, as is customary. (In general, criminal charges for offenses indictable only upon complaint are filed in order to pursue civil compensation.) Since the case was clearly more than just a legal matter, it should be handled with leniency to promote harmony and reduce discord while preventing the waste of judicial resources.
     

  2. The Sunflower movement’s demand that the government pass a cross-strait agreement oversight bill before reviewing the services pact and other cross-strait agreements has now become a consensus in Taiwan society and in the Legislature. On May 15, 2016, the Legislature passed the first reading of the Democratic Progressive Party’s version of the oversight bill and has sent it to the Internal Administration Committee for review. Given the movement’s legitimacy and social contributions, the government should respect public consensus and handle the case with leniency.

     

  3. Although the Executive Yuan retracted the charges for criminal offenses indictable only upon complaint, charges for state-prosecutable offenses, including obstructing an officer in discharging their duties and inciting others to commit an offense, still stand and are being prosecuted in court. This demonstrates the government’s respect for the judiciary as well as its desire to maintain social harmony.
     

III. Conclusion

The Sunflower Student Movement marked an important milestone in Taiwan’s democratic development by demonstrating how civil society can exercise its power. The government’s decision to drop charges against the 126 defendants thus prevents wasting social and judicial resources while promoting social harmony.