Sunday, July 21, 2013

Demanding Justice - Rally for Corporal Hung Chung-chiu

Early Saturday morning, tens of thousands protesters, most of them wearing white, held a protest rally in front of the Ministry of National Defense (MND).  The protesters demanded MND to provide truth under of a young soldier’s horrible death at the hands of his superiors.  The protesters were unsatisfied with the speed of MND’s investigation and the lack of arrests three weeks after Corporal Hung’s death.  The event was sponsored by an activist group named “Citizens 1985”, with 1985 as the number to the Ministry of National Defense’s anonymous tip and complaint line. 

In the past few weeks, the death of Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) of the 542nd Brigade, a graduate student from the National Chung Kung University’s Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science, is the most talked about and discussed news in Taiwan right now.  Not only does the case involves military officers violating protocol when sending Corporal Hung to confinement, it also involved cruel and excessive punishment imposed on Hung, even after he raised his hand several times to request a break. And worst, the drilling officers denied him water after Hung begged for some on several occasions.

The cause of Hung’s death, according to one of Taiwan’s most respected media examiner, Kao Ta-Cheng (高大成), who also attended Hung’s autopsy at the request of the victim’s family, was Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), which was triggered by rhabdomyolysis and heat exhaustion. 

Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fiber, which leads to the release of muscle fiber, a protein named “Myoglobin” into the blood stream.  Myoglobin is damanging to the kidney, and rhabdomyolysis is caused by heat exhaustion.  When DIC is caused by rhabdomyolysis, it leads to the formation of small blood clots inside of the blood vessels throughout the body.  As these clots destroys the coagulation proteins and platelets, blood is unable to clot and abnormal bleeding occurs under the skin and through the body.  According to Dr. Kao, Corporal Hung received 12000CC of blood transfusion at the hospital, which amount to double an average adult’s blood volume.  In other words, Corporal Hung’s body no longer was able to clot his own blood.  Upon arrival, Corporal Hung’s body temperature was 44℃, where 38℃ is already considered as feverish.  When one’s body temperature is around 41℃, the possibility of death increased to 30%.

My father, who was a graduate of Kaohsiung Medical University, continues to shake his head as he watched Dr. Kao’s presentation on Corporal Hung’s physical condition on television.  “The boy died a horrible death,” my father exclaimed, "This shouldn't have happened".

The official investigation by the military’s prosecutor’s office is still on going.  As of now, the Vice Commander of the 542nd Brigade and staff sergeants were detained.  There is also suspicion of military personnel tampering with the evidence, which include a key video of Hung’s last days and the minutes leading up to Hung’s dispatch to the hospital.  The country eagerly awaits the official investigative report from the military’s prosecutor’s office.

The Rally 

As we approached Bo-Ai Road on Saturday morning, one can already hear the loud sound from the activity truck.  Passersby wore various white shirts moving in unison toward the front door of the Ministry of National Defense.

When I arrived the designated area of the protest, there were already a lot of people there.  The composition of the crowd consisted mainly young men.  There were also young women mixed in the crowd, but another very visible group of participants were mothers.

I spotted Huang Mama, Chairwoman of the Human Rights for the Armed Forces (軍中人權促進會), whose son also died of very suspicious circumstances, standing near me.  Our eyes met, and I greeted her briefly and utter a few words of encouragement.  She nodded, smiled and continued monitoring the protest.  Through the protest, I saw her facial expressions changed from contemplative to smile to pride and sometimes to sadness with tears in her eyes. 

Huang Mama
There were also many parents of soldiers who died under suspicious circumstances at the protest.  One of the most visible was Mr. and Mrs. Chen, whose son reportedly committed suicide under a blanket, in his dorm room with others sleeping right next to him.  According to the ministry, Mr. and Mrs. Chen's son used a box cutter to sever his right carotid artery and wind pipe, three times, and then cut his own arms ten times.   

Very quickly, Bo-Ai Road was taken over by participants with no space to move.  The participants extended to as far as I could see.  It was an incredible scene.  At around 11am, the organizer announced that the number of participants had exceeded 30,000 thousand.  

After the skit, where young men doing push-ups begged for water with the drill sergeants loudly refused, organizers and participants also sang songs for the armed forces with modified lyrics. The actors also recited the water verse from the military before drinking water several times.  The signs of this rally were less colorful than the other rallies, but the messages were clear.  The public wants the truth without any coverup. 

The rally hit another emotional high when Corporal Hung’s uncle, who, since the tragedy, has become one of the family’s spokesperson (another one is Hung’s older sister), went on the activity truck to thank the participants.  The rally attendees responded with words of encouragement, cheer and applaud. 

Very soon after the organizer made the announcement that the attendees would stay in front of MND for as long as it requires to have someone with high enough ranking to come out and receive the petition letter consisted of three demands, the organizer informed the participants that someone significant has arrived to receive the letter.

I then saw a solemn looking Andrew Yang (楊念祖) climbing up the truck.  The organizer announced to the crowd that it was the deputy minister who would collect the plead letter.  The crowd erupted in cheer. 

Andrew Yang accepted the letter from the organizer and addressed the crowd in a determined voice.  He asked the crowd to give the MND once more chance to properly conduct its investigation and to right the wrong from the time on.  He promised justice for Corporal Hung and his family.  Deputy Minister Yang then apologized on behalf of the Ministry of National Defense.   

There were reasonably anger from the crowd; however, I also sense the feeling of support for the Ministry of National Defense and especially members of the military, as many commented that members of the military are the ones who were, are and will defend Taiwan against external threats.

The rally ended on a positive note as the participants disbanded for a few hours of rest in preparation of the vigil for Corporal Hung and other soldiers who died under suspicious circumstances while serving in the military. 

About seven thousand showed up for the candle light vigil, including Corporal Hung’s older sister and uncle.  The road in front of the Legislative Yuan was filled with participants.  The participants used candles to form the characters for “Justice”, “Human Rights” and Truth” and to surround Corporal Hung’s portrait.

As investigation of Corporal Hung’s death continues, there is some hope for more transparency of the treatment of members of armed forces and the call to end corruption.  President Ma went to visit Corporal Hung’s family yesterday as he promised a thorough investigation and to reveal the truth of Hung’s death.  Lets see if President Ma keeps his promise on this occasion, his past records notwithstanding.  

(All photos by author)
Corporal Hung's Uncle addresses the rally participants 

Reciting the water verse and drinking water

Su Beng Ojisan at the protest

Volunteers for the skit

The sad mothers were the most heartbreaking rally participants 
Mrs. Chen who lost her son last year


ching chen said...

Greatly appreciate this fine and detailed report of the rally! The pics are excellent too.

I wish I could have been there.

David said...

Excellent photos and great report.

Michael Stanley-Baker said...

Great reporting, keep it up!