Taipei Main Station’s lobby gathering ban draws protests

Photo courtesy of CNA

TAIPEI (CNA) — Nearly 500 people took part on Saturday in a sit-in in the main hall of the Taipei Main Station, protesting against a reported ban on future gatherings in that popular space, with another demonstration planned for the following day.

Reports about the Taiwan Railways Administration’s (TRA’s) plan to extend the current ban on mass gatherings in the station’s main hall emerged on Monday, leading to Saturday’s sit-in organized by Facebook users.

The current ban, according to the TRA, started in February as a measure to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease, since its main hall has long been a place of gatherings, especially on weekends for migrant workers in Taiwan.

Photo courtesy of CNA

One of the participants, Hu Ting-shuo (胡庭碩), said he joined the demonstration after noticing the online call, believing that the public space should be open to everyone.

Hu, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, said most discussions surrounding the reported ban have been about migrant workers, and this to a certain degree reflects the discriminatory treatment of this group of people.

The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, meanwhile, used the occasion to call for support from Taiwanese for Hong Kong’s ongoing democracy movement.

Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔), deputy secretary-general of the association, said it is unacceptable that the government should seek to close a public space belonging to everyone, whether they are passengers, homeless or migrant workers, in the name of disease prevention.

In response, the Taipei Main Station sent volunteers holding signs to remind people in the main hall to follow social distancing rules, wear face masks and not form gatherings, considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Taipei Main Station Master Huang Jung-hua (黃榮華) said the TRA has been instructed by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to discuss a resolution with experts and groups concerning the issue once the pandemic eases.

Taipei Main Station volunteers show signs displaying social distancing rules to people taking part in the sit-in.

Transport minister Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) had said he supports lifting the ban as soon as possible, but promised to find common ground so the hall can be used without compromising adversely impacting passengers’ convenience and safety.

This is not the first time the use of the station’s main hall has raised debate, according to the Taiwan International Workers’ Association, which plans to hold a press event on Sunday at an entrance of the station to urge the authorities to keep the main hall an open space for everyone.

In a statement to the press, the association said the station retracted its decision to restrict the use of its main hall after protests in 2012, and should not move backwards on this issue again.