by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Chen Jiau-hua/Facebook
FORCED EVICTIONS continue to be a severe issue in Taiwan, as observed in several recent cases. Such cases have taken place in northern, central, and southern Taiwan.
Local residents in Tainan have tried to resist expansion plans by the Taiwan Railways Administration, in order to develop the Tainan Urban District Railway Underground Project, which aims to expand the Tainan railway system eastward. A total of 340 households were required to be displaced for the project, but while most households agreed to relocate, five households refused to agree to the relocation. Eventually, this decreased to two households. Overall, the case dragged on for over nine years.
Livestream of riot police outside the Huang family home at 3:20 AM, the night before the demolition. Film credit: Chen Jiau-hua/Facebook
What has particularly drawn attention is that one of the members of the households that refused to agree to the relocation, surnamed Huang, is 99 years old. The other household that refused to agree to the eviction is surnamed Chen. The Huang family owned two homes, resulting in a total of three homes that the city government sought to demolish.
Much efforts focused on preserving the staircase of the Huang family home, which was already partially demolished. Namely, the Huang family argued that they could continue living in their home if the staircase was not demolished.
Roads leading up to the home were closed and eviction notices served to the Huang family home over the course of the past month. In response, local activists and residents have organized activities such as a tour of the local neighborhood, sleep-ins, and a photo campaign. The Huang family also organized watches in order to ensure that the city government did not try to forcibly evict them from their home overnight, or to conduct a demolition overnight. The family called for dialogue with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, so that consensus can be reached regarding preserving the staircase of the Huang family home and allowing for construction to continue for the expansion of the railway.
In the end, both the Huang and Chen family homes were demolished on the morning of October 13th, following a night of confrontations between activists and police. Activists were physically removed by police, despite linking arms and lying on the ground to try and prevent police from entering the home. Struggles broke out between activists and construction workers earlier today, with calls for more talks to take place.
Demolition of the Chen and Huang family homes in Tainan yesterday. Film credit: Unite for Land Justice/Facebook
Though not yet widely discussed, similarly, there have been efforts to resist attempts by the Pingtung county government to evict residents living in the primarily indigenous Linali community from buildings that the county government considers to be illegal structures. Many of the structures were constructed in the wake of Typhoon Morakot in 2009, the deadliest typhoon to impact Taiwan in recorded history, seeing as the typhoon led to the displacement of many individuals from their homes. 1,320 houses were built in the Linali community, housing 483 households, but some of these houses have been deemed by the government to be illegal structures. As such, the Pingtung county government considers these structures dangerous and calls for their demolition.
This has led to protests from community members, leading eighty Rukai to protest in front of the Pingtung county government yesterday. But in the course of the protest, 73-year-old church member Lu Qicun unexpectedly set fire to himself, with the apparent intent of self-immolating himself as an act of protest. It is thought that Lu decided to self-immolate because of anger against the fact that indigenous are frequently displaced from their homes and have increasingly lost cultural autonomy.
While the fire was put out, Lu suffered burns on 20% to 25% of his body. Lu is currently in stable condition. That being said, despite the self-immolation attempt, the Pingtung county government has stated that it still intends to go through with the demolition.
In the same timeframe, there have been concerns raised regarding land expropriation in Kaohsiung’s Fengshan District for the sake of railroad construction. In particular, the city government has been accused of expropriating land from the Chen family and its neighbors, deliberately structuring construction of the railway so that it ran underground in order that this requires the construction of a new rail station.
It is believed by some local residents that the construction of the new rail station will allow for further commercial development in the area, hence the interest of the city government in conducting forced evictions for the sake of development. This led to a demonstration in front of the city government on September 3rd.
Elsewhere, in northern Taiwan, one has also seen demonstrations regarding development plans for Shezidao, also known as Shezi Island. While the island has long been a space for agriculture, concerns have existed about the potential effects on the local ecology and upon local residents from plans by the city government to develop the island. Local residents have also pointed to how the island has seen increasing levels of pollution and waste in past years, with storage tanks and oil canisters disposed of on the island.
Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je touted plans to develop Shezidao to make the island Taipei’s “Manhattan” when elected into office, a claim also made by his predecessor as Taipei mayor, Hau Lung-bin. However, some local residents oppose plans for development or believe that the city government has not adequately consulted with local residents in such developments, with Shezidao residents organizing a self-help group and a petition against development with over 6,000 signatories. Many members of the Shezidao Self-Help Association are elderly individuals in their 70s and 80s, with concerns having been raised about that development plans will require forced evictions and land appropriation.
Other residents, however, are in favor of development plans, leading to protests between the two groups in front of the Taipei city hall on September 30th. Over one hundred police officers were mobilized to keep the two groups separate. Conflict between the two groups has become particularly heated given a planned environmental impact assessment on the area.
Forced evictions for the sake of development continue to take place across Taiwan, then. In many cases, evictions are for the sake of infrastructure development, or for the sake of demolishing structures that city governments consider to be dangerous, but city governments are accused of using infrastructure development as a means of pushing for commercial development. One expects such issues to continue to be contested.