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July 22, 2017

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The need for judicial discretion on an island divided politically

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- United Daily News yesterday published a commentary on the attempted murder charges pressed against Premier Jiang Yi-huah over the widely covered eviction of activists who attempted to occupy the Executive Yuan in March, shedding light on some of the lawsuit's implications.

On March 23, activists stormed the Executive Yuan and in the early morning on the following day, police moved in to evict the protesters from the government complex with the premier's consent.

Up until that point, Taiwan had remained a relatively peaceful society since it was fully democratized following the first direct presidential election in 1996, and it became apparent afterward that many of the activists, a large portion of whom were raised in the comparatively sheltered environment of the 1990s, were not prepared for what was to come.

Camera crews were able to capture live footage of policemen striking protesters with batons, activists screaming in fear as they were chased, dragged away from the government building and complex. In spite of one's political leanings, few would disagree that the footage was very uncomfortable to watch. By dawn, the job was largely done. For the sake of objectivity, however, it ought to be pointed out that the activists were told to leave beforehand and those who had left as instructed before the eviction began emerged unscathed.

On Wednesday, Premier Jiang Yi-huah appeared at the Taipei District Court for questioning as a defendant against attempted murder charges jointly pressed by 23 activists who were injured in the incident.

There is a thing called police brutality, and it is likely that instances of excessive force did occur in the eviction. But it is rather difficult to imagine that the premier had actually called the chief of police and gave an order to "kill" the activists or instructed him to cause them serious bodily harm. One can of course be accused of being naive.

Should a democratically elected administration stand by and allow a group of activists — or "mob" depending on one's perspective — attempt to occupy, paralyze and/or seize control of the highest executive branch of government? If the answer is no, then clearly the order of eviction was justified. That being said, police brutality is never justifiable.

There are two types of prosecution against criminal violations in Taiwan, i.e. private prosecution and public prosecution. The legal action taken against the premier falls in the first category. Public prosecutions are initiated by prosecutors on behalf of the state, whereas private prosecutions are filed with the court by victims of a crime who, instead of the state, are regarded as the plaintiffs.

In cases of private prosecution, the court can advise the plaintiff to withdraw the lawsuit if the case falls under the category of civil action or if the lawsuit is being used to "threaten" the accused, and unless necessary, the accused, in this case the premier, should not be summoned for questioning before the first trial date "unless necessary." This is designed to prevent the legal procedure from being abused. The prevention of which relies solely on the judge's own discretion.

And on this politically divided island, one can only hope that the judiciary, made up of human beings who are inevitably subjective, remains discreet.

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