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Taiwan Charges 118 in Student-Led Occupy Protests

  • Ralph Jennings

FILE - Leaders of the Taiwan Sunflower movement, March 2014.

FILE - Leaders of the Taiwan Sunflower movement, March 2014.

Taiwanese prosecutors have charged 118 people suspected of trespassing and other crimes related to student-led occupy protests in Taipei last year. But the suspects may get off with light sentences as the government seeks better relations with Taiwanese youth.

Hundreds of people broke into Taiwan’s parliament in March, occupying it for about three weeks to protest against ratification of a services trade pact with political rival China. As the protest spread into the thousands, with many of those involved disputing overall economic ties with China, one group broke into the cabinet’s guarded office complex until police forced them out in a series of overnight scuffles.

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged 118 people suspected of protest-related offenses such as trespassing, obstruction of official business and instigating others to commit a crime. But cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyun said the government hopes a light treatment of the defendants by the court will help it develop better relations with younger people.

He said the government hopes students will be able to protest against society. In the future it will be able to ask that the court handle their cases somewhat lightly.

Among those charged is Lin Fei-fan, a 26-year-old Taiwanese man regarded as the overall protest leader. Three other leading figures were also indicted.

They organized what became known as the Sunflower Movement after Taiwan had grown closer to China economically since 2008 under the Taipei government of President Ma Ying-jeou. China has claimed sovereignty over proudly self-ruled Taiwan since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s and wants reunification.

Many who occupied parliament worried that China would eventually leverage economic ties to bring the island under Beijing rule. Ma's Nationalist Party faced criticism over its China policies last year, starting from the protests and culminating in steep local election losses in November. The party faces a tough presidential race next year and has said it wants to reach out more to youth to explain its policies.

Wu Chung-li, a political science research fellow with Taipei-based institute Academia Sinica, said the government needs young people on its side now.

He pointed out that the government should have some political considerations. Due to the election losses, Wu said, the ruling party always hopes to reflect the different voices in Taiwan society.

Some people in Taipei felt the protests lasted too long, disrupting legislative business as well as downtown traffic. The case has not reached Taiwan's court system, and Wu warns that judges are independent enough to resist requests from the government.

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