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May 28, 2017

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'Baby justices' too stupid to punish Sunflower protesters adequately

Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems. Her attributes are a blindfold, a balance, and a sword. She often appears as a pair with Prudentia, who holds a mirror and a snake. Lady Justice is blindfolded to symbolize impartiality and objectiveness. Her figure is seen in front of many a court house in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the West. No such figure is seen in Taiwan, perhaps because justice is not considered impartial.

Two court verdicts show that this is indeed the case.

A coalition of students and civic groups occupied the debating chamber of the Legislative Yuan and broke into the Executive Yuan during the Sunflower Movement from March 18 to April 10 in 2014 in protest against the passing of the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement between Taiwan and China. There were clashes between the protesters and police. Many police guards were injured. Government property in both places was damaged.

Public prosecutors indicted 22 students altogether and their leaders for the occupation of the Executive Yuan, but the Taipei District Court acquitted all of them on March 31 because they just exercised their right of civil disobedience. The same district court had a slightly different verdict on April 10. Of the 21 defendants, 10 were found not guilty for the same reason, but the remaining 11 were sentenced to three to five months in prison for damaging government property as well as obstructing the performance of official duties, though the sentence can be commuted to a fine.

Mostly Baby Judges

Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. So, it is sometimes defined as nonviolent resistance.

Judges of the district court, most of whom are baby judges, probably haven't been taught to distinguish violent and nonviolent resistance. They do not know the theory that, while disobedience may be helpful, any great amount of it would undermine the law by encouraging general disobedience which is neither conscientious nor of social benefit. Therefore it is necessary that conscientious lawbreakers be punished.

As a result, the judges absolved all 22 defendants, including Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), the leader of the Sunflower Movement who is now a Member of the Legislative Yuan. Wei Yang (魏揚), a student leader accused of inciting the storming and occupation of the Executive Yuan, and 10 other students were acquitted, while those charged with damaging government property and resisting police guards were proven guilty.

Nor are these baby judges acquainted with Michael Bayles' argument that if a person violates a law in order to create a test case to the constitutionality of a law, and then wins his case, then that act did not constitute civil disobedience. It has also been argued that breaking the law for the self-gratification of a defendant is not civil disobedience. Likewise, a protester who attempts to escape punishment by committing the crime covertly and avoiding attribution, or by denying having committed the crime, or by fleeing the jurisdiction, is generally viewed as not engaging in civil disobedience.

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