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Citizens' right to property deserves better protection

A dispute over a land acquisition program pushed by Miaoli County authorities took a dramatic turn yesterday when a court ruled that the government had made an illegal move.

Don't get confused. It is the Dapu case we are talking about, in which four houses were forcibly torn down despite their owners' never having accepted the government's offer to acquire their land for a public infrastructure project.

It is not the Shihlin, Taipei case, where a family was evicted from their house, which was then flattened to make way for an urban renewal project run by a private developer.

Of course, you might get confused because there are many similarities between the two cases: the families involved did not want to move; activists lent support, staging marathon protests to defend their houses and rights; government authorities stepped in and bulldozed the structures; and both have gone to court.

The two cases have panned out differently in terms of litigation: the Dapu case has turned out to be a victory for the families, but a Taipei court recently ruled in favor of the government in the Shihlin case.

But the court rulings are far from being final; the Shihlin family has filed an appeal, and the government is likely to ask for a retrial in the Dapu lawsuit. The families can hardly expect to move back to their homes anytime soon, as litigation is likely to drag on.

These two cases — and probably many others that have failed to catch media attention — are surrounded by absurdities because at certain points in both cases the government legally did nothing wrong in enforcing laws that required innocent citizens to sacrifice their properties and rights. Those citizens' resistance was legally unjustifiable at those moments.

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