Lien Supporters Turn Violent, Attack ProtestersPolice inaction during a political event where unidentified individuals assaulted peaceful activists raises questions about possible complicity with gangsters
The deplorable scene just outside the campaign rally for KMT mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文) was bound to happen. Following weeks of vile attacks and fabrications against Mr. Lien’s opponent Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), and realizing that such tactics have failed to turn public against the surgeon-turned-independent-candidate, tempers in the pan-blue camp have understandably flared.
The anger boiled over on Friday (Nov. 21) when a group of supporters of laid-off tollbooth workers (who lost their jobs because of the e-Tag) turned up at a pro-Lien rally in Taipei, where President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), for months the target of their activism, was expected to stump for his party’s candidate. What happened next was an embarrassment for both the KMT and law enforcement at the scene.
In video footage that has surfaced since the incident, a number of young unarmed protesters who had gathered on the sidelines of the open-air stage where KMT candidates were assembled are seen being physically assaulted by unidentified civilians. Many of the activists are punched in the face, dragged away, pushed around, or pinned to the ground. In one instance, a middle-aged woman grabs a young protester by the hair and repeatedly slaps her in the face. Police, while present, fails to end the mélée, and does nothing when activists, including a young woman who is bleeding from the nose, identify their assailants or request to file a report. Tellingly, the activists never fight back and limit themselves to identifying their attackers to the police. A few Lien supporters try to pacify the angry assailants, but are mostly ignored.
One of the more violent assailants (the woman in pink in the video) whom many identified to police at the scene, walked right by law enforcement officers who only sprung into action when young activists tried to follow her; they blocked her pursuers, thus ensuring that she could get away. The woman in question was not unfamiliar to messy scenes. She was a vocal participant at the April 1 rally organized by “ex” gangster and pro-unification “politician” Chang An-le (張安樂), a.k.a. “White Wolf,” to protest the occupation of the legislature by the student-led Sunflower Movement. (At least two young men were violently assaulted during the event.) In an earlier incident during the occupation, thugs on motorcycles threw petards at the young protesters gathered peacefully outside the legislature, tried to pick a fight with them, and one of them flashed a knife. The young man in question was eventually released. Chang, who claimed he didn’t know the culprit, paid his bail.
The woman in pink has also been active with the Concentric Patriotic Association of the ROC (中華愛國同心會), whose mostly pro-unification members have, among other things, been behind a series of assaults outside Taipei 101. (Unconfirmed reports place her at some of the activities outside the skyscraper.) She is also a regular at protests and activities organized by individuals with close ties to Chang, such as Wang Puchen (王炳忠) and Lin Ming-cheng (林明正).
Thugs associated with the White Wolf have long been suspected of providing physical security for senior KMT officials, such as President Ma, and visiting officials from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a party with which Mr. Chang is believed to have a close relationship. Last year, Chang threatened to deploy “thousands of his followers” to counter planned protests by civil society outside an annual KMT meeting in Taichung. Most recently, dozens of unidentified (albeit without doubt gangsters) men turned up and assaulted protesters during Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Zhang Zhijun’s (張志軍) visit to Taiwan in June. President Ma’s sisters have also participated in activities organized by Chang, such as the New May Fourth Movement rally in “support” of the police following the occupation of the legislature.
One takeaway from all this is that 30 years after democratization, the KMT still hasn’t abandoned its reliance on organized crime to control the public — at least when public anger is directed at top KMT officials, candidates, or causes that are supported by the party (one example of this was the series of incidents that occurred at the Nov. 30 rally by opponents of same-sex marriage, where participants encircled, purchased, and blocked the free movement of other civilians in a public space, with police looking on).
If what the e-Tag protesters did on Friday night was illegal (which it wasn’t), it would then have been the responsibility of law-enforcement officials to remove them from the scene. Relying on violence-prone unidentified men and women — some with suspected ties to underworld figures or perhaps even the Chinese intelligence apparatus — to clear up the scene (with President Ma egging them on from the stage), is highly improper, to say the least. Police’s indifference to the injuries sustained, and their refusal to take action to protect public safety and bring perpetrators to justice, raises suspicions of complicity. At minimum, the victims of Friday’s violence should seek an investigation, and the C.O. at the scene should be brought in for questioning. Maybe the thugs were self-appointed and did not act on orders of the KMT or Lien campaign organizers; either way, their actions were criminal and police should have arrested them.
Those are the kinds of unofficial party-state-gangster relationships that exist in repressive systems such as those in China and Russia, not in a modern liberal society like Taiwan. But then again, one of the themes of Mr. Lien’s rallies on Nov. 22 was “Walk for Chiang Ching-kuo,” who among other things headed the ROC intelligence apparatus during the White Terror era, when underworld figures often did the party’s dirty work.
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei.