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Lawyers seek ruling on Martial Law

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Lawyers seek ruling on Martial Law

ILLEGAL FROM THE START?: The declaration of martial law 60 years ago violated the Constitution, activists say, because Taiwan had not been declared a war zone

By Rich Chang

Sunday, Jun 01, 2008, Page 1
The Taipei Times

A human rights group said yesterday that it would seek a ruling from the Council of Grand Justices on the constitutionality of the decades-long period of martial law declared in 1949, a case activists hope could lead to compensation for thousands of former political prisoners and the families of those who were executed.

“Many political prisoners were sentenced to death under martial law. Their futures were taken away from them. But historical research has found that the 38 years of martial law were illegal and invalid and we are seeking the support of the grand justices in declaring all trials of political prisoners during the Martial Law period invalid,” the Taiwanese Court Supervision Association told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

More than 100 people whose family members were detained or executed during the “White Terror” attended the press conference.

Former national policy adviser and political prisoner Hsieh Tsung-min (謝聰敏) said yesterday that attorneys Thomas Huang (黃維幸) and John Wei (魏千峰) would represent two political prisoners — Hung Wu-hsiung (洪武雄) and Hu Hsueh-ku (胡學古) — on behalf of the victims’ representatives, to file the case in the coming days.

The lawyers said many innocent people were executed or had their property seized under martial law, but that martial law had been implemented illegally.


Citing a book published by the Academia Historica, From the Declaration of Martial Law to the Lifting of Martial Law, Huang said Taiwan had not been declared the site of an armed conflict in 1949, which violated the conditions for declaring martial law.

The Constitution stipulates that martial law can only be implemented in a war area, Huang said.

In addition, the declaration of martial law was not approved by the Legislative Yuan or then president Lee Tsung-jen (李宗仁) — who was in the US at the time — as required by the Constitution, Huang said. Instead, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authorities in Taiwan declared martial law, he said.


As the declaration of martial law was unconstitutional and led to human rights violations, Wei said the council should declare it illegal. The trials should be examined and compensation should be awarded the victims or their families, Wei said.

Wei also criticized President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for failing to fully address the systematic abuses that occurred during the White Terror.

The White Terror began soon after the 228 Incident in 1947, when the government launched a brutal military crackdown against locals protesting the administration of Executive Administrator Chen Yi (陳儀), who was appointed by the KMT government to govern Taiwan after World War II. Martial law was enacted briefly at that time.

On May 19, 1949, the Taiwan Provincial Government, headed by Chen Cheng (陳誠), reimplemented martial law in Taiwan as the KMT struggled with the civil war in China.

In the following years, tens of thousands of people were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered. The KMT killed tens of thousands of suspected dissidents, mainly the Taiwanese intellectual and social elite as it searched for communist agents, sympathizers and others it feared could pose a threat to its rule. The all-powerful Taiwan Garrison Command identified victims through a web-like secret agent system.

Hsieh has found through his own research that at least 29,000 cases of political persecution involving 140,000 people occurred during the Martial Law era.
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