Acquittal verdicts overturned for 7 Sunflower Movement protesters

Wei Yang (center), leader of the Executive Yuan occupation speaks after the ruling outside the Taiwan High Court.

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Taiwan High Court on Tuesday sentenced seven Sunflower Movement activists to 2-4 months in prison for inciting others to commit crimes related to the occupation of the Executive Yuan complex during a 24-day student-led protest in 2014, overturning the “not guilty” verdicts a lower court previously handed down.

The sentences are commutable to fines, but the decision can still be appealed.

The Sunflower Movement was a protest against the then Kuomintang (KMT) government’s handling of a trade in services agreement with China, which was sparked when former KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) rushed through the trade agreement without debate on March 17, 2014.

During 24 days of protests from March 18 to April 10, hundreds of students broke into the Legislative Yuan, while thousands demonstrated outside the complex.

A group of students attempted to occupy the nearby Executive Yuan on March 23, but were forcibly removed by police wielding batons and firing water cannons during the early hours of March 24.

The seven individuals found guilty include Wei Yang (魏揚), leader of the Executive Yuan occupation and son of Transitional Justice Commission Chairwoman Yang Tsui (楊翠).

Protesters outside the Executive Yuan. CNA photo March 23, 2014.

The evidence demonstrated that the seven called on an unspecified large number of protesters to occupy the Executive Yuan by replicating the occupation of the Legislative Yuan through verbal and written communications, said High Court spokeswoman Wang Ping-hsia (王屏夏).

Noting that barbed wire and barricades were erected outside the Executive Yuan with police and security guards also deployed at the site, Wang said protesters would not have been able to occupy the complex without resorting to violence or using physical force to storm the building.

Despite knowing this, Wei and several others still encouraged crowds to force their way into the complex, Wang said. The High Court ruled that the seven individuals’ actions constitute inciting others to commit a crime and obstructing officials in the performance of their public duties.

Wei said that Tuesday’s ruling was tantamount to telling thousands of protesters they were mobsters and were incited to take part with no capacity for independent thought.

Independent Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐), a supporter of the Sunflower Movement, called the ruling incomprehensible and unfair, saying police officers accused of using excessive force against protesters have still not been identified.

However, former Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), who ordered riot police to evict protesters occupying the Executive Yuan, on Tuesday hailed the ruling as belated justice, noting that the occupation of the Executive Yuan on March 23 “was not a peaceful demonstration” and the Sunflower Movement “was not civil disobedience.”

Civil disobedience, also called passive resistance, is defined as the refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition.

Jiang said the Sunflower Movement protesters attacked the police, incited the masses, broke into government offices and vandalized public property.