A panel of High Court judges reduced the jail term of "Rice Bomber" Yang Ru-men yesterday to five years and 10 months, 20 months less than a lower court ruling announced in October.
The court decided to cut Yang's sentence as it was judged he was only trying to show opposition to the opening up of rice imports and express his concern over the impact the decision would have on the lives of Taiwan's farmers, said High Court Spokesman Wen Yao-wen.
Under the Control of Firearms and Ammunition Act, the maximum sentence for violators like Yang that intentionally assemble explosives which could harm people is the death penalty. Yet, due to the nature of Yang's reasoning this maximum sentence was not handed down.
Born into a peasant family in Changhua County, Yang, 27, placed 17 explosive devices in public places between 2003 and 2004 to protest the government's failure to safeguard farmers' livelihoods and provide assistance to upgrade their knowledge and techniques. Matters for farmers worsened after Taiwan's accession to the World Trade Organization in 2002, as Taiwan became obligated to import rice from other member states.
The High Court deemed that Yang's motive was not malicious, the High Court spokesman explained. The devices he planted did not cause casualties of any sort and the fact that he was a first-time offender was also taken into account, Wen added.
The major difference between yesterday's ruling and the lower court's verdict last October was a result of different interpretations over whether Yang's case should apply to Article 59 of the Criminal Law that allowed the judiciary to cut a criminal's sentence if his motive was shown to involve extenuating circumstances.
The High Court said yesterday that Yang's case has garnered a lot of sympathy from the public, as many people understand the genuine plight of local farmers. Furthermore, Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) testified that Yang's case to a certain degree influenced negotiations last year between Taiwan and the United States over whether Taiwan should increase its rice imports from U.S.
Lai believed that although Yang might be unaware of the significance of his actions, he helped the U.S. negotiator understand how much pressure the Taiwan government was under not to increase rice imports. For these reasons, Article 59 was applied to Yang's case, he added.
The panel of judges at the Taipei District Court who gave the previous ruling in October argued that the case ought not to be suitable for the article. The lessening of his sentence might encourage other people to adopt illegal and violent ways to express their disagreement toward public issues, they explained.
Based on the High Court's view that Yang's case does indeed apply to the article, his sentence was cut from seven years and six months to five years and 10 months in yesterday's verdict, and was ordered to pay a fine of NT$100,000 instead.
Yang's lawyer, Ting Jung-tsung, related that his client accepted the reduced sentence and would probably not file an appeal against the ruling, as Yang has expressed a hope to serve the term as soon as possible.
Yang's father concurred with the lawyer's remark, "This is acceptable, since the jail term has been reduced to five years and 10 months."
But Ting said Yang would file an appeal against the High Court's decision not to release him from a detention center before starting his prison term. After having been detained for 13 months since last November, Yang had hoped to go home for the coming Lunar New Year holidays.
The lawyer added that though he may not persuade his client to submit an appeal against the High Court's ruling, he would bring to the High Court's attention the special pardon granted to Yang by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as "Yang's case is special."
As the High Court announced yesterday's ruling, anti-globalization groups protested outside the court to voice their support for Yang and to blame the government for sacrificing farmers' interests.