Taiwan exonerates 1,505 victims of political persecution

VP Chen Chien-jen cut a barbed wire covering on a scroll of names to signify the expungement of their criminal records

VP Chen symbolically expunging the victims' criminal records

VP Chen symbolically expunging the victims' criminal records (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (CNA) -- The criminal records of 1,505 victims of political persecution in Taiwan were wiped out Sunday at a formal ceremony, in a bid to help heal their long-lasting trauma and to remind the country of the lessons learned from its authoritarian past, according to the authorities.

At the ceremony, Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) symbolically cut the barbed wire covering on a scroll of the 1,505 names to signify expunging their criminal records.

The ceremony was held at Jing-Mei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, the site of a former military prison, and also included the performance of a song by an elderly man from the indigenous Atayal tribe in honor of the 27 indigenous people on the list.

In the song and in a speech afterward, it was explained that the Atayal people typically resolve conflicts by means of "sbalay," which in their language stands for truth and reconciliation.

"My father-in-law and I were put into prison and the pain remains a ripping sensation for me," said Chiu Chih-ming (邱致明), an 86-year-old Atayal man, who spoke through an interpreter on behalf of the victims.

"I am really grateful to everyone" today for wiping out the prison records, he said.

Chiu's wife Kao Pai-lan (高白蘭) also spoke at the ceremony, recounting the tragedy her family suffered when her father Kao Tse-chao (高澤照) was executed in 1952 and her husband was arrested in 1964.

Kao was involved in the first and most well-known case of the then Kuomintang (KMT) government's suppression of indigenous leaders, including Tang Shou-jen (湯守仁) and Kao Yi-sheng (高一生) and three others, by using trumped-up charges to silence appeals for indigenous people's autonomy.

"They were not criminals," Kao Pai-lan said. "What they did (which led to their execution) was out of their love for the community and the country."

The indigenous people were among those imprisoned or executed during the brutal crackdown by the KMT on an anti-government uprising on Feb. 28, 1947, known as the 228 Incident, and the subsequent White Terror period under martial law from 1949 to 1987.

"Many of the political victims have passed away, but the government is obligated to make restitution to them for the damage that was done to their reputations though unfair trials," Chen said in his speech.

Transitional justice also serves the purpose of recovering historical truth and thus allowing the victims and perpetrators to move toward reconciliation, he said.

Furthermore, it provides a chance to restore trust and allow the society learn from past mistakes so as to better protect freedom and democracy, he said.

Among the names on the list of victims were Yang Kui (楊逵) and Yeh Shih-tao (葉石濤), the two leading figures in Taiwanese literature during the period of Japanese colonialism period to the post-war era.

The Transitional Justice Commission, established in May as a court- like body to redress judicial wrongs and to undertake other measures to deliver transitional justice, in October expunged the records of 1,270 victims of political prosecution.

According to the government's official records, the 228 Incident left an estimated 18,000-28,000 people dead.

Some 13,000 victims of the White Terror era were rehabilitated or received compensation in the period 1999 to 2007 through a now defunct foundation that was established for that purpose, the records show.