Thursday, March 12, 2015

Labor activists’ charges dropped

Labor activists’ charges dropped

RUNAWAY TRAIN::The charges related to a controversial protest rally in 2013, when footage of train passengers arguing with the protesters was released by news outlets

By Lii Wen  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Mar 12, 2015 - Page 3

The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office yesterday dropped a case in which 12 workers and activists were charged over a rally that temporarily paralyzed the Taipei Railway Station in early 2013.
Led by the National Alliance for Workers of Closed-Off Factories, the rally made headlines when dozens of protesters staged a sit-in on train tracks, obstructing railway operations for several hours on Feb. 5, 2013, delaying more than 40 trains and affecting about 16,000 passengers.
At the time, organizers of the rally said that the blockage was a “last resort” after the then-Council of Labor Affairs — now the Ministry of Labor — repeatedly ignored their pleas to drop a prior lawsuit against them.
The incident provoked a heated public debate after news footage showed disgruntled passengers arguing with the protesters.
Prosecutors yesterday said they decided not to indict the 12, citing a lack of evidence that the railway blockage posed a threat to public safety and that the group did not violate regulations in Article 185 of the Criminal Code — which prohibits “damaging or causing congestion” to public transportation facilities.
Charges related to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) were also dismissed, as the police officer who issued warnings against the protesters during the rally was later found to hold insufficient authority, prosecutors said.
Two leading activists in the case, Kuo Kuan-chun (郭冠均) and Lu Chih-hung (盧其宏), received deferred prosecution and were sentenced to 80 hours and 60 hours of community service respectively.
The two were charged with obstructing police officers for when prosecutors said they attempted to prevent officers from removing protesters away from the railroad tracks.
“Before the protest, we were not optimistic about how the courts would react, as there had not been a demonstration with such intensity since an earlier railway blockage more than 10 years ago,” Kuo said, referring to a protest in 1996 that resulted in a labor activist being sentenced to 10 months in prison.
He said that the prosecutors’ decision to dismiss most charges came amid growing public support for social movements, adding that the long-criticized Assembly and Parade Act was losing its force.
Taiwan Railway Administration Director-General Chou Yung-hui (周永暉) wrote on Facebook that he failed to understand the prosecutors’ decision, adding that the verdict might have a “great impact” on public safety.
In the late 1990s, hundreds of workers lost their jobs when several factories closed. Unable to receive their legally mandated retirement payouts or salaries from their employers, the workers staged a series of demonstrations.
Eventually, the Council of Labor Affairs proposed to give the laid-off workers retirement payments in the form of loans that their employers would be responsible for repaying.
However, in 2012, the council began to file lawsuits against the workers, asking them to repay the loans because the council had failed to get their employers to repay the money.
A new wave of protests followed, until a landmark ruling by the Taipei High Court ruled in favor of the workers in March last year, after which the council decided to withdraw its lawsuit.

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