KMT government might have been behind martial law-era homicide of Taiwanese dissident's family: Report

Investigation suggests authorities deleted key recording of call made by suspected murderer from home of jailed dissident Lin Yi-hsiung

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Yeh Hung-ling (left) and Greg Yo (right).

Yeh Hung-ling (left) and Greg Yo (right). (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A new report concerning the triple homicide of family members of prominent Kaohsiung Incident dissident Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄) suggests that the authoritarian Kuomintang (KMT) government was likely involved in the brutal murders almost four decades ago.

The Transitional Justice Commission (TJC) on Monday (Feb. 17) published a new report on the murders of Lin’s family at his residence in 1980 — a time when Lin was detained and faced a trial for his involvement in a pro-democracy march in late 1979. The march ended with a violent crackdown by law enforcement, which later became known as the Kaohsiung Incident, or the Formosa Incident.

Lin’s mother and his twin daughters were killed in his house at noon. His third daughter survived but suffered severe injuries, and his wife avoided being killed as she had been visiting Lin at the prison.

The commission’s report shows that despite denials from the National Security Bureau, the major intelligence agency conducting large-scale surveillance of civilians under the authoritarian government, Lin and his family had been under constant observation.

According to newly surfaced NSB documents, the agency sent undercover operatives to gather information from Lin’s family and friends, dispatched personnel to watch his house, and tapped the telephone even after Lin had been arrested, said Greg Yo (尤伯祥), a commission member, at a press conference on Monday. It is also highly likely that the authorities also set up tapping devices in Lin’s house, he said.

Part of the reason that the houses of Kaohsiung Incident activists were targeted for surveillance is that Shih Ming-teh (施明德), another leading figure in the pro-democracy movement, managed to evade capture for a while, said Yo. In addition, the authorities suspected that the families of the dissidents were liaising with overseas forces in order to help their detained loved ones, Yo added.

Another finding by the commission is that the NSB actually had an audio recording of an outgoing telephone call made by a man in Lin’s house during the time of the murders. The tape, however, was “overwritten,” based on recently declassified internal files from the intelligence agency.

A past investigation carried out by the Criminal Investigation Bureau shortly after the murders confirmed the existence of such a recording and the phone call, although no follow-up examination was conducted. The NSB’s documents show that the agency acknowledged having had the recording but claimed that it had deleted the tape a few days after because it was not yet aware of the homicides.

Nevertheless, Yo contended that it was impossible for the NSB to have made the decision unwittingly, as the first person to arrive at the crime scene, Lin’s secretary Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇), had called the police using the same telephone that was being taped by the agency. The loss of the recording shows the possibility that the KMT government played a part in the murders and deliberately destroyed what could have been incriminating evidence, according to Yo.

The commission encouraged the government to continue investigating the murder case, which remains unresolved after almost 40 years, said member Yeh Hung-ling (葉虹靈). She also urged the NSB to expedite the process of declassifying other documents that may lead to the truth behind the killings, she said.

“The report by the commission is far from the end [of the murder investigation],” emphasized Yo, adding that the commission will conclude its two-year tenure in March according to the law. The report only shows what the commission has found so far regarding the case, Yo added.

The report is based on past investigation findings and official documents unearthed after the Political Archives Act was passed last year. The commission took a special interest in whether Lin and his family were under government surveillance when the tragedy took place and if investigations in the murder case encountered any interference from the KMT authorities.

A few probes into the case were conducted over the past few decades without much progress, as the NSB made some official documents believed to be crucial unaccessible, citing their confidential nature, according to Yeh. Yo said investigators in the past tended to portray the murderer as someone with ties to a political movement or overseas forces, and they simply dismissed the possibility of the government being the culprit.