by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Solomon203/WikiCommons/CC

ANGER HAS broken out after New Taipei arrested and detained a migrant worker who was taking out the trash on the basis of suspicion of her being a “runaway” migrant worker. The case became widely reported after migrant worker advocate Grace Tzi-hua Huang posted about the incident on Facebook. 

The worker in question went to take out the trash at 4:45 PM on Monday. Subsequently, she was questioned by a police officer, who demanded her ID. The worker in question did not have her ID on her, as she was only taking out the trash, and had simply stepped out of her home for a few moments. But this led the police officer to conclude that she was a runaway migrant worker and arrest her. As Huang noted, few take their IDs out with them as they are just taking out the garbage. 

The Facebook post in question by Grace Tzi-hua Huang

Although she tried to find a photo of her ID on her phone, this was to no avail. Though a friend on the phone attempted to persuade police using English to show restraint, the police officer instead took her phone away. The police officer was notably not wearing a mask during the course of these events, violating current regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 mandating that medical masks be worn outside. 

Subsequently, she was handcuffed to a 7/11 stool and brought to the Zhongxing Bridge Police Station in Sanchong, where she was placed in leg shackles and interrogated. When police found her to be in Taiwan legally and released her, she did not have any money on her, so she was unable to take a taxi and had to walk back using Google Maps. 

After the incident, the migrant worker decided to report the incident, and was accompanied by her employer to the police station. Police are accused of attempting to hinder her and her employer when they then attempted to file a report, making the process unnecessarily long, and keeping them at the police station past 1 AM. 

Likewise, police are accused of refusing to provide video or photographic evidence, which should exist from the 7/11 and from security cameras in the area. Police have been called on to provide evidence, conduct an investigation, and apologize for the incident. 

This is not the only incident in recent memory in which police arbitrarily detained someone on the suspicion that they were a “runaway” migrant worker that had escaped from their place of employment. In April, Chan Hui-ling, a Taiwanese music teacher in Zhongli, was stopped by police on suspicion of being a runaway migrant worker and asked to provide ID. When Chan declined to respond to what she felt were intrusive police questions, she was body-slammed by police, handcuffed, and brought to a station for questioning. 

After Chan demanded that video of the incident be released, police released a partial video of Chan being questioned, which ends before Chan was body slammed and detained. Police declined to release video of Chan handcuffed or being interrogated. It remains to be seen if police decline to release footage of the recent incident, as well. Taiwanese police are sometimes accused of hiding evidence through conveniently missing footage or broken security cameras when there are incidents of police wrongdoing. 

Migrant worker advocates have pointed to his and other incidents as illustrating a pattern of arbitrary detentions by the Taiwanese police. Videos of police arresting migrant workers in Zhongli with chokeholds, or driving migrant workers out of public gathering areas such as the ASEAN Square in Taichung have provoked outrage in the past. One notes that migrant workers have also faced restrictions on their freedoms that Taiwanese do not face during the COVID-19 outbreak, as seen in continued restrictions on migrant workers’ freedom of movement in Miaoli and other places.

Video of events before Chan Hui-ling’s arrest. Film credit: CNA/YouTube

Indeed, there is a general pattern of disproportionate police violence against migrant workers. In April 2019, “runaway” Vietnamese migrant worker Hoang Van Doan was found dead while handcuffed by police under mysterious circumstances. 

In another incident in August 2017, Vietnamese migrant worker Nguyen Quoc Phi was shot dead by police. Police claimed that Nguyen was attempting to steal a car and attacked them with rocks, though Nguyen’s relatives viewed this claim as suspicious, seeing as Nguyen did not know how to drive. Either way, police responded with bullets to merely being attacked with rocks, while similar violent incidents against police from Taiwanese were not met with deadly force. Police reportedly did not conduct CPR on Nguyen as he bled out from his wounds after he was shot. 

The recent arrest of the migrant worker in New Taipei who was simply throwing the garbage only scratches the surface of a larger set of issues, then. 

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