High court upholds acquittal of Sunflower Movement leaders

Taipei, The Taiwan High Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of the student leaders of the Sunflower Movement, saying that their protests in 2014 were a form of expression protected under freedom of speech laws.

The students' 24-day occupation of the Legislature in March 2014 was a protest against a lack of transparency in a trade-in-services agreement between Taiwan and China, the high court said.

During the 24 days of occupation by hundreds of protesters, the leaders of the Sunflower Movement, as it was dubbed, did not incite violence, and while some supporters of the movement clashed with police, no weapons were involved and there were no serious injuries, the high court said in its ruling.

The Sunflower Movement was form of expression protected under the laws of freedom of speech, the high court said.

The case was appealed in the high court by prosecutors after a district court acquitted in March 2017 the 22 student leaders of the movement of charges of inciting others to commit a crime and obstruction of official business or other crimes.

Under the Criminal Speedy Trial Act, the case cannot be appealed in the Supreme Court, unless some violation of the Constitution is involved, since both the district court and the high court have acquitted the defendants.

One of the leaders of the movement, Huang Kuo-chang (???), who is now a New Power Party legislator, said the high court ruling proves that the Kuomintang administration at the time had entered into the trade agreement with China without any proper transparency.

Speaking to reporters in front of the high court building after the ruling, Chen Wei-ting (???), who were one of the 22 charged, said Taiwan's justice system protects the rights of the people, which sends a message to China's President Xi Jinping (???), who has recently been granted a lifetime mandate as his country's leader.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Reform Foundation issued a statement, saying the ruling was an indication to the Taiwan government and law enforcement personnel on how to respect people's freedom of speech and assembly.

The foundation had retained about 400 lawyers to provide free legal services to the student leaders of the Sunflower protests that ended when the government agreed to shelve the controversial trade agreement.

Shortly after the student occupation of the Legislature, however, two similar actions were attempted and many of the demonstrators were indicted in February 2015 for their roles in those protests.

Some 132 people were indicted for attempting to storm the Cabinet building on March 23, 2014, but the charges against 126 of them were dropped in 2016, shortly after then Premier Lin Chuan (??) took office.

In April 2017, a district court acquitted the other six people, and prosecutors later appealed the case in the high court.

Charges were also brought against four people who took to the internet on April 11, 2014, to mobilize a large crowd to surround Taipei's Zhongzheng First Police Precinct near the Legislature, which was responsible for maintaining order during the protests.

In August, two of those organizers were acquitted, while the other two were convicted of obstruction of official business.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel