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Taiwan: Protect Homeowners Against Forced Demolition

About 400 people gathered around the house of the Wang family in Taiwan's capital Taipei early in the morning of March 28, 2012, to protect the family against eviction by the police.

A controversial urban renewal project [zh] has made the Wang's house part of the Taipei city government sanctioned renewal zone under the 2008 Urban Renewal Act [zh], which allows the government to forcibly expel citizens from their own house when 80% of their neighbors agree to sell their land to the developer.

More than 20 communities affected

Supporters gathered in front of the Wang's houses. Image by Coolloud (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Supporters gathered in front of the Wang's houses. Image by Coolloud (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

After the new Urban Renewal Act was passed, more than 20 communities have been affected [zh], causing intense conflicts between the homeowners and the construction companies. The affected homeowners together jointly set up the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal [zh] in May, 2010.

In the Wang's case, the developer Leyoung Construction (樂揚建設), of the urban renewal project involved has collected an agreement signed by 38 out of 40 affected homeowners [zh]. While the majority of the affected households were living in apartment building, the Wang family had two independent houses in the district and Wen-Lin Yuan (文林苑), the head of the Wang refused to sell their family property to the developer. The company then turned to the Taipei city government to evict the family and demolish their houses by force.

Since July 2011, the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal has been protesting for the Wang family,  demanding the the Construction and Planning Agency to revise the Urban Renewal Act. They pointed out [zh] that:

為了加速都更不惜動用公權力強行拆屋趕人、掩蓋該案背後爭議、也過度擴充多數決同意都更乃至強拆民宅的正當性。…內政部營建署與台北市都市更新處應負起把關居民生命安全、公平公正都更的責任,而非將制度性問題,化為在地社區居民對立的假象

In order to speed up the urban renewal, the government retreats to police force to evict citizens, covering up the embedded interests and conflicts, justifying the tyranny of the majority in forced eviction… The Construction and Planning Agency of the Ministry of Interior and the Urban Redevelopment Office in Taipei city should take the responsibility for residents’ safety and justice in urban development. They should not mislead the public by manipulating the urban renewal problem into conflicts amongst residents living in the same community.

However, the Interior Ministry keeps neglecting the Alliance's demand and the latest conflict arose when the Taipei city government issued the eviction order for the Wang's house on March 19. In reaction to the government's move, the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal asked their supporters to patrol around the Wang’s house and defend the family against the eviction.

When the Taipei police prepared to forcibly enter the Wang’s house on March 28, hundreds of supporters laid down on the ground in front of it to protect the family. Professor Hua-Chen Liu [zh] was sitting with the Wang family on that day and she described what she saw in the kitchen on the first floor:

在廚房裡的我們,感受到的不是和自己並肩而坐、那種令人興致高昂的同志體溫. 而是兩位老人家,在經歷面臨拆遷的精神折磨,臉上那種無以言喻的表情. 也是兒孫們圍繞著因為犯了高血壓毛病的阿嬤, 輕拍她的肩膀,按摩她的雙臂.
不知為何,阿嬤的頭輕輕地垂了下來. 然後,廚房裡的我們,又站了起來,再一次盡可能地完善我們的防守設備.

In the kitchen, we did not feel the body temperature and heartbeats of the supporters outside the house. What we saw was two old women suffered from the torment of forced eviction, with their indescribable facial expressions. One of the woman, who has hypertension, was surrounded by her children and grandchildren, who kept tapping her shoulders and rubbing her limbs. Somehow she lowered her head. For those who were in the kitchen, we stood up again to perfect our defensive equipment.

However, despite all their preparations, the police crushed the back door easily and the supporters were taken away by the police. Professor Hua-Chen Liu [zh] described the scene:

進不來的聲援群眾想側拍衝進後門的過程, 都被警察以雨傘和大型帆布遮住,無從看到. 一大群警察直接衝過來,沒有人掛名牌. 沒有人解釋基於什麼理由要拖走我們, 沒有任何前言後話,就是動手!

The supporters outside the house tried to take video of the eviction process, but the police blocked the scene with umbrellas and large canvas [sheets]. They could not see anything happening inside the house. A lot of police officers rushed into the house. None of them wore their name tag, and none of them explained why they dragged us away. They just took action without any explanation.

The site had been sealed and the police stopped reporters and citizens from making any record of the demolition process. Media Watch Taiwan [zh] posted an eyewitness report:

現場也有多位民眾以手機、相機、筆記型電腦、平板電腦等工具紀錄。其中一名記者同業表示,看到警方最先以手電筒照射學生拍攝用的手機。後來包括《目擊者》電子報等不同媒體的幾位記者趨前拍攝後,有兩位員警也同樣如法炮製再度干度採訪拍攝。

There were many citizens using their cell phones, cameras, notebooks, and tablet computers to record the process. One reporter noticed that the police had used flashlights to stop students from using cell phones to take photos. They used the same tactics to disrupt other reporters, including the reporters from Media Watch Taiwan from taking photos.

When the police officers entered the Wang's houses, Ping-Yao Li was on the second floor [zh]:

我真的不知道自己身在何處。一樓的警察拿起油壓剪,阿姨往下探頭,發現一樓的傢俱都被往外丟,玻璃都被打破,我們鎖上窗戶,將桌椅抵住大門,圍成圈圈坐在客廳,四面八方傳來各種聲響,警察用力的撞門叫罵。…親愛的人民保母,你們今天讓幾百個學生陷入極端的恐懼,並且帶來無法抹滅的不信任,你們遵從所謂的職務,並且成為財團打手。

It was very chaotic and I had no idea what was going to happen. The police officers on the first floor used the hydraulic cutters to break in. Auntie Wang looked down and saw their furniture being thrown out from the windows. We locked the windows and pushed the table and chairs against the front door. Then we sat in a circle inside the living room surrounded by the horrible sounds of the forced demolition and police curses… Dear nannies of the people, today you brought fear and distrust to hundreds of students by following the orders that equate you to thugs working for the business syndicate.
Supporters surrounded the Wang house. Image by Flickr user coolloud (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Supporters surrounded the Wang house. Image by Flickr user coolloud (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

After the eviction, professor Hua-Chen Liu reflected [zh] on the brutal process:

我不明白失去自己的家是什麼意思. 非常疲憊、很想睡覺的我,在這個陽光殘酷得白花花的早上, 可以坐上計程車,20分鐘後從口袋摸出鑰匙, 洗個安慰疼痛肌肉的熱水澡.
但是王家呢?
警察拉人的過程裡,他們一直要學生小心,「不要受傷」. 優勢警力把人肉沙包和他們的家俱一件件往外丟時. 他們只來得及抱著父母的遺照和祖先牌位逃出來.
他們今天要睡在哪裡?他們明天要住在哪裡?
在這個都更的龐大魔爪下,明天我會在哪裡?你會在哪裡?

I do not understand what the the meaning of ‘losing one's home’ is. In this cruel sunny morning, I am so tired and sleepy, I can sit on a taxi, go home and take out my keys from my pocket within 20 minutes, then take a bath to relieve my muscle pain.
But how about the Wangs?
When the police officers dragged the supporters away, the Wangs kept reminding the students to be careful and ‘don't get hurt.’ When the police threw the supporters and their furniture out of their house, they only had time to grab the photos of their deceased parents and their ancestral tablets with them.
Where are they going to sleep tonight? Where will they stay tomorrow?
Under the devil’s talon of the so-called urban renewal, can we be certain where we will be ending up tomorrow?

4 comments

  • […] The outrageous eviction of the Wang family executed by Taipei City government showed the public how fragile citizens' private rights is in front of the urban renewal projects. More and more, public opinion has urged the Premier, Chong Chen, to revise the current Urban Renewal Act [zh]. […]

  • […] Kitendo cha kinyama cha kufukuzwa kwa familia ya Wang family kilichofanywa na serikali ya Jiji la Taipei kiliuonyesha wazi umma jinsi haki za raia zilivyo tete mbele ya mradi wa ufufuaji miji. Kumekuwa na ongezeko kubwa la maoni ya umma yanayomtaka Waziri Mkuu, Chong Chen, kupitia upya Sheria ya sasa ya Ufufuaji Miji [zh]. […]

  • This was, properly understood, a crime but merely one made legal by the political power arrogated to the State through the sanctification of democratic elections. The solution is not to make that operation of political power yet more “democratic” (the destruction of the Wangs’ home was democratically sanctioned), the answer is to begin stripping the State of its power.

    In any so-called “Liberal Democracy”, it is not the “democracy” bit that really counts in respect of people’s rights – it is the Liberalism bit, because that implies the limitation of the State to a small number of well-defined tasks (such as collective military defense).

    The fact that the DPP are still committed to the democratic calibration of political power, rather than the defusal of political power itself, is the reason why they are not, and cannot be, a real opposition party.

  • […] 台北政府が 非道にも王さん一家の立ち退きを執行し、この都市開発法の前では市民の私権がいかに脆いかということを、国民に知らしめた。 陳冲行政委員長(首相)は 都市再開発活動を見直すべきだ [zh] との世論がますます高まってきている。 […]

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